‘Challengers’ Is Catnip for Bisexuals — And Finally Gives Zendaya a Role Worthy of Her Talent

Jumping back and forth through time with abandon, at first I found the structure of Luca Guadagnino’s much-anticipated Challengers to be off-putting. Then it hit me: It’s structured like a tennis match.

Now, I don’t know a lot about tennis and only have a cursory understanding of how it’s scored. But by the end of the film I was so deeply seduced into its world that I felt like an expert. Like Zendaya’s prodigy turned coach Tashi Duncan, I was plotting from the sidelines, desperate to jump out of my seat and grab hold of the racket.

The seduction of Challengers is plentiful with exciting sports movie sequences and even more exciting make outs. The Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score pulses throughout, often giving casual conversations the energy of a match point.

As Tashi will say again and again, for her everything is tennis. Everything is a back and forth spar with her on one side and her opponent on the other. (She was never known for playing doubles.)

The details of our trio’s dynamics are best discovered within the film’s unraveling. Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor are all so sexy and so sexy together — each individual, each pair, and all three with such different relationships and means of seduction. This is a true love triangle with desire volleyed in all directions.

Like Personal Best meets Merrily We Roll Along, the film sweats with lust and regret, the beauty of connection and the pain of connections’ fractures. The characters, especially Tashi, care about tennis and care about winning above all else. The film doesn’t approve or apologize for this perspective. Instead, it invites us inside.

As a career-focused Capricorn, I was easily seduced. But I still cackled with glee at just how willing these characters and the film was to assert the importance of winning. Of course, this mindset impacts the characters’ relationships to one another. And yet, true to Tashi, the film posits, would that impact be negative if they just fucking won?

In the end, we’re all winners, because we’ve been gifted a movie as fun as it is stylish as it is emotional as it is sexy. Zendaya commands the screen with no caveats. She’s not good with what she’s given (Dune) or good despite the mediocre writing (Euphoria). She’s just… good. No, she’s great. No, she’s the best. She’s so good in this role, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing it. She utilizes her celebrity as well as her acting talent to create a larger than life figure still human and recognizable.

Luca Guadagnino is better known for eroticism than explicit sex scenes and that is also the case here. But the foreplay is so good, it feels explicit. There’s something very queer about turning the appetizer of a kiss into a whole meal. The lack of explicit sex in Call Me By Your Name felt cowardly — here it increases the erotic tension. These characters can never quite hold onto one another nor the success they desperately desire so everything feels like edging. We’re led right up to catharsis only for the kissing to stop or the game to be interrupted by yet another flashback.

By the end, the catharsis finally arrives, but in a way you don’t expect. It’s the movie equivalent of a two hour steamy makeout that results in an unexpected orgasm. Or maybe it’s the movie equivalent of a three day tennis match filled with impeccable skill and inevitable exhaustion. Or maybe, just maybe, those are the same thing. After all, for Tashi Duncan everything is tennis.


Challengers opens in theatres on April 26.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Since your review, or in many other’s opinions, lack of review on True Detective, I genuinely cannot stand or stomach anything you have written. It’s like you live in a bizarre fantasy world. I wish Autostraddle had considered the thoughts of over sixty commenters on that post when assigning reviews. It’s basically the most comments anything on here has ever gotten, so clearly, more focus should’ve been paid. Especially since a majority of the reviews were from fellow queers and people of color calling you out. You might be a decent writer at something, but it certainly is not reviews.

      • i agree w/ the above commenter. yr review of true detective was shitty and dismissive of the real work of bipoc folks putting their real experiences to form, esp when there’s real dearth of knowledge abt the reality of missing and murdered indigenous women. someone else should’ve written that review. writing abt rich ppl is a fine work for u tho, such is the case w/ this film.

    • This comment comes off as creepy and obsessive. You disagree with her opinion on one show (that received mixed reviews anyway) so you comment hateful shit on whatever she writes going forward? Are you part of the crew on that show or do you just not have anything better to do?

      Anyway Drew, thank you for reviewing this film! I wasn’t sure that I’d go to see it but now I’ll make time for it.

  2. Hi Drew, Senior Editor at Autostraddle,

    This movie was not on my radar but now it is !

    As Senior Editor at Autostraddle, a position you most assuredly deserve considering your knowledge and skillful craft, let me say I very much appreciate your writing. We are very lucky to have you because wow, do you have the chops.

    Thanks for making me see, as always, beyond my limitations. Whether I “agree” or not, it’s always a fun ride how you make me step out of myself and my narrow confines.

    I wish I was more spontaneous in just commenting your articles instead of going off on a mad think that lasts for days, but today’s the day I step up and say it right now ! I dunno, something about extra motivation I guess.

    Plus : I love the company you keep 💘

  3. Another fantastic review Drew, I can’t wait to see Zendaya smash it in this movie. Your writing is gorgeous, funny and electric as usual, thank you.

    Also lol, I honestly had to laugh in disgust at the peep going wild over (the notoriously misogynistic, fake and scaremongering) True Detective. Your writing is fabulous and opinions on point. Don’t waste a second on some anons being anon.

    • His work definitely has sex in it. I just think he’s generally more interested in everything around the sex?

      It’s been a long time since I’ve seen I Am Love though so maybe I’m misremembering that one.

  4. You regularly ignore films and TV series with women loving women, but again pay attention to a film with men at the center and the relationships between them. This is just stupid. I used to actively read this site, but now I come here very little. I think I will soon join my friends who have stopped reading this site. thank you for the good times in the past. AND I still wish you good luck guys

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