REVIEW: Rivals sparkle with tournament and love


They grew up together in tennis school, they were best friends, and maybe more than just friendship was born in both of them. The brotherly relationship, through which flashes of eroticism flash through, as well as training together, helped both to climb the tennis ladder to junior medals.

Then Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a gorgeous tennis prodigy, literally burst into their young lives. A girl who knew very well that hitting the ball was not a lifelong activity for her, but tennis was such an emotional affair for her that only a winner could succeed with her. After an erotically tense but unfulfilled night with both young men, she threw a clear challenge “on the court”: whoever wins tomorrow will get her phone number. Game or the real need to love the winner?

Patrick won, but before he and Tashi could become professional sports stars, Tashi suffered a fatal injury, which Art took advantage of. He asked her to be his trainer. Together then, already as husband and wife, they climbed up to one tiny step below the absolute peak. But Art suddenly stopped doing well.

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Fifty-two-year-old Italian director Luca Guadagnino came to international attention with the film Give Me Your Name, about an unexpected relationship between two young people. He won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for the film To the Bone.

And Rivals, which he made based on the screenplay of debutant Justin Kuritzkes, is just a seemingly banal love and sports triangle.

Photo: Vertical Ent.

A love triangle is just being born. From left, Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor.

Guadagnino starts the story when the two protagonists meet as opponents on the court after a number of years when Art won the biggest and highest paying tournaments. In the meantime, Patrick went around the inferior ones to make a living, if only just barely. Now Art is at rock bottom and Tashi has sent him to this minor tournament to boost his confidence. “There just can’t be anyone here you can’t hoof,” she told him. But Patrick is there.

The director gradually reveals the past of the love triangle in flashbacks, in which he relativizes the relationships in a remarkable way. How are Art and Patrick? Were they very close to sexual intercourse? Maybe, but Tashi showed them both a different path anyway.

And who exactly is she and her role in the lives of both? A great trainer for sure. But is her relationship with one, and then the other, love or just a game, important to her own injury-ending career? The tension of the mutual relationship escalates the film admirably until the central match, which has a surprising and excellent point.

The cast is also great, dominated by Zendaya (Spider-Man: Far From Home and Homeless, Dune), a beautiful femme fatale who was given and took full advantage of the lead role. She is mysterious, sensual, sparkles with energy in various situations or is even ice-impenetrable.

Zendaya would like to sing the hit from Sinful Dance in the movie



Similarly ambiguous is Josh O’Connor in the role of Patrick, sometimes an insufferable dude, other times a desperate outsider who never achieved the fame of his friend and son. And the tenderness with which Mike Faist, as Art, loves Tashi all his life, both touches and terrifies with his unsolicited submission.

The scenes of the tennis matches are superbly shot, with choreography that can almost lift the viewer from the seat and cheer. Marko Costa’s editing accurately captures the turning points not only of the tournaments, but also of the relationship between the three.

However, what can be criticized is the length. This time it’s not about weedy scenes, just often unnecessarily long ones. From a creative point of view, it is somewhat understandable that Guadagnino wanted to focus on the experiences of the characters, but from an audience point of view, many of the scenes are drawn out, so the viewer may even get bored during the film. However, the final message is so well pointed that it overshadows the feeling of occasional boredom.

USA 2024, 131 min.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist and more
Rating: 80%

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The article is in Czech

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