A complicated love story: Zendaya shines onscreen and on the tennis court in ‘Challengers’

Zendaya stars for director Luca Guadagnino (Bones and All, Call Me by Your Name) in Challengers, a movie about tennis that works well as both a fascinating study of the sport and a complicated love story. Make that a very complicated love story.

Tashi (Zendaya) is a college student and tennis prodigy who, shortly after a romantic encounter with two men she meets at a tournament (Mike Faist as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick), injures herself and turns to a life of coaching. After a brief affair with Patrick, she moves on to Art. Art’s tennis career takes off while Patrick’s founders.

Guadagnino and his editor deftly use flashbacks and flashforwards to show the events leading up to a final, unplanned tennis match between Art and Patrick—one that has more than their tennis futures on the line.

Zendaya shines in the role. Zendaya always shines in her roles, and this film gives her a terrific opportunity to branch out, play some intensely dramatic scenes, and even show her humorous side. Tashi isn’t always likable, but Zendaya’s dramatic powers make it so understandable why two guys would turn their lives upside down for her.

As with all of Guadagnino films, the movie is shot beautifully and, as mentioned before, masterfully edited.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do another score for Guadagnino after their collaboration on Bones and All, and they make some very surprising and bold choices.

Is it a tennis movie? (All of the main performers, especially Zendaya, look mighty comfortable swinging a racket?) Is it a love triangle? Is it really about Art and Patrick? You watch it, and you decide. The ending is an ingenious one that allowed me to draw my conclusion; see the film and figure out where you land.

Challengers is now playing at theaters, and is available via various streaming services.

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