The Venice Film Festival is serving up one of the year’s buzzier films as its opening night selection in Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers? The romantic tennis drama starring Zendaya’s West Side Stories. Mike Faist and The Crown’s Josh O’Connor’s will have its world premiere out of competition at the 80th edition of the festival in September, organizers said Thursday.
The racy trailer for the pic, which hits theaters September 15, shows off Zendaya as Tashi Duncan, a former pro tennis champion turned coach who finds herself drawn to two men. Her husband (Faist) is a former top player, while washed-up rival Patrick (O’Connor’s) used to be his best friend and her boyfriend. According to the movie’s synopsis, the two begin to compete in a tumultuous love triangle that may endanger their careers and lives.
Guadagnino is a Venice regular, with his films A Bigger Splash (2015), Suspiria (2018), and Salvatore: The Shoemaker of Dreams (2022) all playing in competition at the famed international festival. Last year he premiered his film Bones and All, starring Timothee Chalamet, in Venice, earning the festival’s prestigious Silver Lion award.
In the film, set in Boston, Zendaya plays Tashi, a force of nature who does not make any apologies for her game on or off the court. She is married to a former champion (Mike Faist) who has fallen off the grid after a significant injury, and Tashi takes it upon herself to help him get back on track. Their pasts and presents collide as the three become entangled in each other to dangerously flirtatious degrees.
The film, produced by Amy Pascal under her Pascal Pictures banner, stars Zendaya as Tashi, who trains for the role with a professional tennis coach and former player. It was written by Justin Kuritzkes, who was also behind the 2021 Black List of the most-liked unproduced screenplays. It will be executive produced by Lorenzo Mieli, Kevin Ulrich, and Bernard Bellew and directed by Guadagnino. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will compose the score. MGM and Amazon Studios will distribute the film.
Zendaya first met Guadagnino while shooting her upcoming film, The Rhythm Section, released in January. She has starred in movies like Dune, Euphoria, and the upcoming Do It Again.
The director, whose last two films have been Oscar contenders, has long been a fan of the actress, with the pair collaborating on the 2017 thriller Call Me By Your Name. The movie will be the second film to open the Venice Film Festival, which will run from Aug. 30-Sept. Other titles in the lineup include a new drama by writer and director John Michael McDonagh, the world premiere of The Whale starring Brendan Fraser, and a documentary about the controversial French singer Brigitte Bardot. The full lineup will be announced in late July.