Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

All is ‘Fair Play’ in love and work

Trey Paine | The Observer

Writer and director Chloe Domont is bringing back the erotic thriller, as her impassioned feature debut “Fair Play” takes Netflix’s No. 1 movie spot upon its release. The film, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival where it was purchased for $20 million by Netflix, stars Phoebe Dynevor (“Bridgerton”) and Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo: A Stars Wars Story”) as financial analysts at a Manhattan hedge fund. 

What begins as a seductively playful relationship, as Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich) are forced to hide their new engagement at their shared workplace, quickly devolves into interactions fraught with violent undertones and psychosexual implications. 

The movie opens with Emily staring out into a calm ocean, solitary amongst the party of wedding guests stationed in the background, unaware of the chaos about to enter her life. When Luke proposes minutes later, driven by lust and alcohol, the stage is officially set. This budding excitement is only heightened when Emily overhears that Luke is slotted to be promoted to the hedge fund’s recently vacated portfolio manager position. Luke’s words that night, as he asks a smiling Emily, “How did I get so lucky?” while they share a steamy shower, perfectly encapsulates the masculine intonation of the film’s opening. 

However, Luke’s world and the implied patriarchal hierarchy within the firm are turned upside down when Emily is instead promoted. Emily, now her fiance’s boss, must learn to circumvent the male dominance asserted in her new position both at work and within the couple’s shared apartment. From that point on, the film is a building of inordinate erotic tensions as the couple spirals down and away from each other. 

In a show of abrasive masculine pride, Luke capitalizes on any opportunity to tear down Emily. Littered with misogynistic comments and attitudes, he critiques the way she dresses and her business decisions while also insinuating Emily slept her way to the top. He says he only got the position because of optics, saying, “They just needed a f*cking woman to look good.” 

Any empathy that might have been garnered from the audience for Luke is systematically deconstructed as details of his privileged background and general ineptitude for the job are gradually revealed. Emily, who attended an Ivy League on a scholarship and has an innate proficiency in the finance field, quickly becomes the star of the show. 

In a film that raises questions of male fragility and feminine rage, Dynevor masterfully portrays all the dualistic qualities sought after in women in society. She is rigid when she needs to be but not unable to let loose. She is fun and uptight. She is professional and personal. She is confident yet persuaded by Luke to go against her instincts. 

Using a striking control of body language and cues, Dynevor’s ability to express her character through the most minute details is an exemplary accentuation of the dichotomy of sexual stereotypes and gender roles in the film.  

The psychosexual thriller culminates with a reclaiming of power by Dynevor’s character in a show of physical violence, reversing the earlier rape by Ehrenreich’s Luke. The perfunctory “I am done with you” ends the film in a conclusive way that somehow still leaves the audience on the edge of their seat. The web of tension was weaved so thoroughly throughout the performance that any resolution would have likely felt hasty. 

Domont’s feminist-shaded vision unveils an erotic and manic representation of sexual and psychological relationships when the traditional masculine trappings of society are reversed.