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Zendaya's 'Challengers' release date

Zendaya Serves Up a Steamy Three-Way Set Point in ‘Challengers’ 

Tennis has never been this hot. From visionary filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, Challengers is much more than just a sports film about tennis. The passion-fuelled drama delves into a mesmerising volley of power, desire, and what it takes to be at the top of one’s game as a champion.  

Starring Emmy-Award-winning star, Zendaya, alongside Mike Faist (West Side Story) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown), the sports-romance film follows the careers of two best friends-turned-rivals and their complex romantic entanglement over the years with a former tennis prodigy turned coach.

Zendaya's 'Challengers' release date
Art and Tashi in college, sharing lunch | Image: Supplied

What is ‘Challengers’ About?

Fresh from her stint in box-office smash hit Dune: Part Two, Zendaya plays determined tennis player-turned-coach Tashi who is married to a champion on a losing streak, Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). The non-linear structure of the film is centred around an intense high-stakes challengers match between Art and washed-up tennis star Patrick, who we discover was once Art’s childhood best friend and Tashi’s former lover. Just like the back and forth rhythm of a tennis match, the film interweaves the past and present with flashbacks of the moments leading up to the heated match between the tennis rivals.

When we first meet them, Patrick and Art are inseparable roommates at a tennis boarding school and find themselves at a crossroads between college and professional careers. United by their bond as best friends and friendly competitors, they dominate the tennis circuit as the renowned duo “Fire & Ice.” However, their world is shaken when Tashi, a rising star on the court, enters their orbit.

As Tashi becomes intertwined in their lives, a steamy romantic triangle emerges, fracturing the camaraderie between Patrick and Art as they vie for her affections. As teased in the trailer, the three friends find themselves in a spicy ménage à trois of sorts – one that we’d imagine have Tom Holland sweating.

The dynamics shift further when Tashi enters into a relationship with Patrick, but later down the track ends up marrying Art. Like I said, a true entanglement. Despite their shared experiences and love for the game, the rift between Patrick and Art deepens, and their relationship goes from fractured to completely severed.

Amidst the backdrop of the pivotal challengers match, Patrick and Art find themselves pitted against each other, with Tashi observing from the sidelines. She is a picture of poise and control and much can be said about her loaded facial expressions throughout the match. The revelations that unfold through the interweaving flashbacks take you on an emotional trip, where you never know who to root for and find yourself second-guessing who to be angry at. and show the intricacies of this complex three-way relationship.

Zendaya on the red carpet at the Australian premiere
Zendaya on the red carpet at the Australian premiere

Zendaya Steps Behind the Camera

Not only does Zendaya star in the film, but the acclaimed actor takes the reigns behind the camera. “Producing is something that I’m definitely not new to,” Zendaya tells us at the Sydney Challengers press conference. “But for me, it’s been a way to be creative in a different sense. I was always a shy kid, so the more I do this, the more I love moving behind the camera.”

“Being able to have a real title allows you to protect yourself in a lot of different space. It allows for you to be like, ‘Actually, this is what’s happening. And I can be a part of this conversation.’ It allows me to protect my work and the people around me.”

Immersive Cinematography

One of the most striking things about this film would have to be the masterful cinematography choices under the direction of Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom who also worked with Luca Guadagnino in the 2017 romance drama, Call Me By Your Name. At certain points in the film, the camera takes a life of its own, making you feel almost uncomfortably too close to the action.

“Sayombhu was amazing”, Zendaya tells Man of Many at the Sydney press conference. “He was such a lovely presence to be around. He’s so calm and masterful at what he does.” 

“It’s such a gift for a cinematographer to allow space. To make you feel there’s not a camera there.” Josh O’Conner adds.

Man of Many at the front row of the Challengers press conference | Image: Supplied
Man of Many at the front row of the Challengers| Image: Supplied

While the narrative of the film jumps over a period of 13 years, we see the three central characters at different stages of their lives – as teenagers, college students, and older adults. Zendaya attributes Mukdeeprom’s masterful lighting to contribute to the visual authenticity of the characters at different ages. “He was able to make us look younger through his lights and make us feel that we were in a different part of our life with the way he illuminated our skin.”

Tenniscore on Point

While the emotional tension runs high in this film, so does the sartorial serves. Often dubbed as ’Tenniscore’ the fashion trend combines sport, quiet luxury, and old money, but the wardrobe choices in Challengers take it to a whole new level. To dress the characters the way nuanced and detailed way Guadagnino envisioned, international designer Jonathan Anderson — creative director of LOEWE –  gave the costumes a feel of bodies in motion while connecting to their primal and career desires and an overall understanding of what makes modern brand culture essential. 

Josh O'Connor in 'Challengers' (2024) | Image: Supplied
Josh O’Connor in ‘Challengers’ (2024) | Image: Supplied

Clothing is a fantastic thing, and what Luca realises — and is so good at understanding as an artist — is  how it really gives a view into who we are,” says Anderson. “I was thinking for the design, how do you heighten something in a film through the idea of clothing that makes you engaged with the character? Luca is so good at having audiences feel like they’re in constant eye contact with his characters. While watching the film, I think the audience  feels like they are like a tennis ball going back and forth, tossed around this fascinating, exciting dynamic.”

What is the ‘Challengers’ Release Date?

Challengers hits Australian cinemas on 18 April 2024.

Challengers cast, Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor posing in Sydney in front of Sydney Harbour.
The cast of Challengers, Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor in Sydney Harbour.