One of the first official looks we ever got of Challengers—the latest film from Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino—was the image of stars Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist sitting on a hotel bed, anxiously and eagerly looking at one another.

The energy between them practically jumped off the screen. Something was about to go down.

But what that “something” was wasn’t exactly clear. Would Challengers lean into the queer tension of its central trio and deliver a true ménage à trois? Or we we about to see another love triangle romance where two guys duke it out over the affections of the same woman?

Well, now that we’ve had a chance to see it, the answer is yes—to both questions—and the movie is all the more alluring because of it.

With Challengers now playing in theaters everywhere, let’s break down just how gay it really is.

*Fair warning that some spoilers for the plot of Challengers are discussed below, but don’t worry: We couldn’t possibly ruin all the fun of seeing it for yourself!*

Challengers‘ writer & stars agree it’s about a “queer” romance

Set in the world of professional tennis, the main thrust of Challengers‘ plot is a match between former friends Art Donaldson (West Side Story‘s Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (God’s Own Country‘s Josh O’Connor)—with Art’s wife Tashi Duncan (Euphoria‘s Zendaya) watching nervously from the sidelines.

As its narrative bounces back-and-forth through time, we learn that Art and Patrick were doubles partners in their teens, before either of them went pro, and that Tashi drove a wedge between them. At one point, Tashi dated Patrick, making Art incredibly jealous, but after an injury ruins her chances at tennis stardom, they break up and she turns to coaching. Eventually, she begins coaching Art, and the two later get married and start a family. It’s not until the guys’ fateful tennis match that all three are reunited on the court, and old tensions rise to the surface.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the film features a zippy screenplay from first-time feature writer Justin Kuritzkes (the pair also worked together on the upcoming Daniel Craig-starring Queer), who was very intentional in telling a story where “all points of the [love] triangle touch.” At Challengers‘ LA premiere, the screenwriter explained to Variety why the three-way relationship at the heart of the story was queer “by nature”:

“What’s true about a love triangle is that every love triangle is, by its nature, queer,” Kuritzkes shared. “Because whether you intend to be or not, you’re in an intimate relationship with two other people.”

With that in mind, given the opportunity to speak with the film’s leading trio (which you can watch above), Queerty wanted to know if they shared the same opinion: Does that make Challengers a quote-unquote “queer film”? Zendaya, who is also serves as a producer, was the first to chime in:

“You read it, and it’s there,” she shares exclusively with Queerty. “I remember talking to [Guadagnino,] and there was… a sensibility and an understanding that he had of the characters and their love for one another, and their desire for one another and what holds them together. And he just saw them in a in a beautiful, deep and compassionate way.”

“While it can be, in certain scenes, fun… I think it’s also very emotionally complex and deep,” Zendaya continues. “Because I do think these characters are intertwined. And we’re still trying to figure out if it’s love, if it’s lust, if it’s desire, if it’s hatred—I don’t know what it is between all three of them that that holds them so closely with each other, but I think Luca saw it beautifully and portrayed it beautifully.”

O’Connor—who has previously been involved in a number of queer films—agreed, sharing that acknowledging an attraction between all three characters was key in his approach to playing Patrick:

“We’re offering an alternative view on how relationships work. “It’s tricky and it’s flawed,” O’Connor says. “I feel like Patrick is obsessed with Art and he’s obsessed with Tashi—and he challenges them both, and they accept the challenge. And they both, whether they admit it at different points in the film, actually love the challenge of Patrick.”

As Tashi puts it in the film, tennis is a relationship, about “understanding each other completely”—much like being in love. And whether these three are playing on the court or off, it’s clear they’re inspiring one another to bring their A-game.

Breaking down the gay subtext—and text!—of Challengers

And, for the curious, here’s where we really get into *spoilers*: Does Challengers go all the way in terms of explicitly bringing same-sex romance to the screen?

Indeed it does, in ways both big and small, and the aforementioned hotel bed scene is a crucial one. In flashback, after a night of openly flirting with Tashi at a party, Art and Patrick invite her back to their shared hotel room—an invitation they’re surprised she accepts.

Image Credit: ‘Challengers,’ Amazon / MGM

Sensing just how close the guys are, Tashi teases and pries, eventually getting them to spill about the time Patrick taught Art about masturbation. They maintain it only happened once, and that they were in separate beds at the time, but Tashi—and the audience—seems to sense they’re not telling the complete truth.

Soon, she moves to the bed and the guys excitedly follow. Tashi kisses them each one at a time, then both at once, and as things start to get hot and heavy, she leans back with a smile and watches as the Art and Patrick continue to go at it—tongues and all—seemingly unaware that she’s no longer in the equation.

Tashi cuts the encounter short, leaving the guys hanging (literally), but the tension of that moment hangs over the three of them for years to come.

And in fact, with a sensual filmmaker like Guadagnino behind the camera, the entire film is pretty homoerotic. From the opening shot, which traces the lines of Faist’s body laid in bed like he’s posing for a pin-up, the male form is front-and-center. The camera lingers on their muscles at work and at rest, sweat dripping off every frame.

An argument between the guys in a sauna—in nothing more than meager spa towels—plays out like a charged tennis volley of words. Even scenes of the guys eating are loaded with winking subtext, chomping down on phallic foods like bananas and churros. Make no mistake: Challengers will drive the gays wild.

Image Credit: ‘Challengers,’ Amazon / MGM

But if you’re looking for overt acknowledgment that either of these man are queer, blink and you may miss it. During a locker room-set scene, Patrick—surrounded by nameless naked men—sits and swipes through a dating app on his phone. Of the potential matches we see, one appears to be a man, and Patrick seems to pause on the profile just a little longer.

Would Patrick openly admit to others that he’s swiping through guys on the apps, that he harbors same-sex attractions? It’s unclear, and never comes up again in the film. But our read of it is, at the very least, the impact of his intimate relationship with Art is one he’s never really been able to shake, and he at least seems open to the possibility that those lingering feelings could be telling him something more.

As for where things end up for this threesome, well, you’ll just have to see how this game plays out…

Challengers is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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