Fair Play, written and directed by Chloe Domont, stars Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in a tense, intense, emotional drama about relationships and gender politics in the workplace. This review contains spoilers.
Fair Play begins with Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) having bathroom sex at a party, getting engaged, and clearly being hot for each other. If the story starts with an engagement, you have to wonder where the film is heading. This one heads into an intense and emotional train wreck.
Emily and Luke have been together for two years. They are both analysts in a high pressure hedge fund management company. They keep their relationship secret because it’s against company rules. They are in a perpetual state of lust and seem to get along very well.
Luke comes from privilege. He thinks he deserves to get anything he wants. Emily worked hard to get where she is. She’s smarter and savvier about high finance than he is.
When one of the PMs a level above them in the company leaves in a spectacular tantrum, everyone assumes Luke will be promoted to the position. Instead, the boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan), calls Emily to a bar at 2 AM to tell her she got the promotion. It’s clear Campbell knows what she’s done and is capable of doing for the company.
Luke congratulates Emily as he should. But he’s simmering inside. In one of the most well-written and acted depictions of male fragility on film, Luke gradually falls apart. Luke is the analyst for Emily now. He feeds her bad information to make her decisions look wrong. He accuses her of sleeping with the boss, says she dresses like a cupcake, stops performing at sex. He demeans her in every way. She tries to placate him, help him. Finally, he rapes her violently in another public bathroom scene – we’ve come full circle. She’s bent over a sink and his face is in the mirror above it but he never looks at himself. He never has one second of introspection.
The dissolution of their relationship is well done and intensely fraught. The scenes where they finally split up are powerful, violent, and brilliantly acted. Emily is the strong one. Emily is the survivor. Luke may go on to success somewhere, but he will never be able to admit the superiority of a woman as compared to him. It’s not because she’s smarter, better, quicker. It’s because she cheats somehow. It couldn’t be merit. Not in his mind.
One of the principles of writing fiction is to use the particular to tell a universal story. Fair Play does that especially well. It paints such a specific, painful and clear picture of male fragility. Luke is a casualty of believing the patriarchy is the way things are supposed to be.
The film is streaming on Netflix. If you watch it, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.