I don’t exaggerate in the title of this review because when I say I devoured Fair Play, I mean I was distraught. Chloe Domont’s highly anticipated film is absolutely engaging from start to finish. Not only does it live up to the title and make one ponder about the said name, but it also feels like an absolutely exhausting ride. It stops us from questioning why it had such a big buzz at Sundance and went on to sell to Netflix for $20 million. Before I actually talk about the film, yes, this one has a diversity problem, and to be fair, the story isn’t something brand new. It has a similar ambience as The Big Short, but rather than focusing on the work, we get a glimpse into the lives of a couple who have to hide their relationship while growing in the office space. You see, both of these people work at this huge hedge fund company, and things quickly take a turn when they get engaged before a huge promotion. Before going further, I’d also recommend checking out the trigger warnings for this film before watching it.
Emily and Luke are a happy young couple who both work as analysts at a hedge fund. When one of the Pportfolio Managers gets fired unexpectedly, the rumor spreads that Luke is going to get the esteemed job, but instead, it’s Emily who gets it, unraveling their relationship slowly but harshly. It’s the way the film escalates from one small event to the massive catharsis in the end (which is rather hard to watch) that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. The film verges on being uncomfortable to watch but just manages to miss the bar there in the best way possible. I think Domont makes the right choices in setting boundaries to push her characters to, just to make them seem real enough. Nothing feels ridiculous or overexaggerated, but it does feel like watching a couple in the middle of the street at each other’s throats. Which is okay, I guess? What’s interesting is how the film balances the sexual relationship with work dynamics and how this plays into the couple’s power dynamics. It’s the little details that really make the difference, and if it weren’t for them, the film may have come across as a bore. Things like where each of them is sitting when they’re in conversationor or who takes the lead in a conversation—these small things all play into the complexity of the dynamic between Emily and Luke. Fascinatingly, the first half and the second half of the film are almost mirrored, with a lot of scenes playing off of each other, representing the title of the film.
Fair Play gets progressively unsettling as we reach the final act of the film, which just manages not to go off the edge into disaster territory. If you haven’t seen the trailer for this film, I’d highly recommend going into it blind. There are three highlights in this film: Domont’s vision, and the performances of the two protagonists. Hot off of Bridgerton fame, Phoebe Dynevor proves she’s not all cute but can be an absolute powerhouse too. The chemistry between Emily and Luke is slightly awkward but very fiery at the same time. From the start, we form a liking for the couple, who seem to be leading a rather mundane life, which is, in fact, quite frustrating because they have to hide their relationship. On the other hand, Alden Ehrenreich is so fantastic as this male lead that you really just want to punch him in the face multiple times. No offense to Alden at all; it’s just his perfect portrayal of Luke, who wants to be supportive but is insanely jealous, that makes me feel that way. There’s a seesaw of emotions as we see the protagonists push each other’s buttons at a very steady pace.
This game of betrayal is filled with tension, colored by the darkness of moody cinematography and the paranoid psychological-drama score. There’s not much to see except the four walls of their house, some shady corners of the streets of New York, and the office space, which is basically just a floor. Watching Phoebe Dynevor become a “finance bro” is quite riveting and also something I’d never expected myself to say. Jokes aside, the gender dynamics explored in Fair Play give us a fantastic insight into the male-dominated finance industry. As someone who doesn’t understand anything about finance, there was nothing that went over my head or made me feel like this film wasn’t for me. It’s easy to understand and focuses solely on Emily and Luke.
From the beginning of the film, there’s a sense of foreboding. It does deliver on that promise in the third act, which in parts feels like a nightmare. This movie is probably going to be divided among couples. A make-or-break moment is in the making. I’d say if the poster gives off the vibes of a psychosexual thriller that you would usually not be interested in, ignore that feeling and give this one a go. At least it’ll make you want to have conversations. As excruciating as the experience of watching that last act is, the finish is rewarding. It’s been a while since an adult film felt so right in terms of a solid plot. If you like to listen in on private conversations, then you’re going to love this film because it feels like two hours of eavesdropping. On the other hand, if you just like a strong female protagonist and a highly charged couple making their way in the work world, then give this one a go. I recommend watching Fair Play, especially with a partner if they’re up for it. I’d give Fair Play 4 out of 5 stars for a clean story, fantastic acting, and some rather interesting dialogue that would’ve been funny to watch in different contexts. You’ll know what I mean.