This smart thriller shines light on “good guys” getting upstaged by women
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Netflix, Oct. 6
Since #metoo materialized, movies have become the movement’s signature artistic expression. After a slow start, the quality has been on the rise. Early examples like Bombshell and Promising Young Woman adopted the broadest approach possible to create awareness. But more recent films like Tár and Barbarian have used #metoo as a departure point for deeper, genre-tinted explorations of gender imbalance.
Fair Play is next level. It delves into how changing power dynamics are impacting modern relationships. The findings aren’t pretty.
Set in the ruthless world of stock trading, Fair Play tells the story of Emily (Phoebe Dynevor, Bridgerton) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich, Solo). Very much in love and lust, they become engaged, certain a life of happiness awaits them.
Unfortunately for the couple, there are some blatant red flags, chief among them, their workplace. Both Emily and Luke are analysts at a particularly cutthroat financial firm and have failed at disclosing their romance. Their highwire act begins to falter when a chance for a promotion arises and Emily lands it.
Luke reacts by saying all the right things (“I’m so happy for you”, “This is a win for us”). But he is clearly discombobulated by the news. The shift in power dynamics is sudden and jarring, and any illusions that Emily can help Luke get ahead are quickly shattered by their merciless boss (Eddie Marsan, scarier than in Happy-Go-Lucky). The whole thing goes down like the Titanic, and you can’t take your eyes off it.
Written and directed by Chloe Domont (Billions), and inspired by her own experiences as an up-and-coming filmmaker, Fair Play works well as a relationship drama, an erotic thriller, and as high finance intrigue. It’s also tremendously insightful. You don’t have to be a stockbroker to understand the discomfort of having your partner earn way more than you.
Fair Play benefits from having two fully formed characters at the center of the action, and competent actors in charge of them. As soon as Emily receives the promotion, she demonstrates a level of determination and ambition she may have kept hidden for the benefit of her partner. In contrast, the once unflappable Luke devolves into a passive-aggressive mess and a virtuoso of the cutting remarks.
Dynevor is great at conveying both sides of Emily, while Ehrenreich (who deserves a better career) is fearless at portraying a so-called “good guy” who falls apart at the first complication.
While the movie has no interest in defending Luke or sugar-coating Emily, it does bring attention to the speed of social change and how poorly (some) men are adapting. It only takes a scroll through Twitter to encounter Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate disciples, and like-minded Ben Shapiro pricks, to understand how distasteful the notion of gender equality is to them. ■