Fair Play opens with the tone and aesthetic of a 90s exotic thriller. As the plot unfolds, Chloe Domont’s debut feature develops into something more modern. The film comments on how gender dynamics have evolved in the past few decades. Even when progress is seemingly being made, some things never change. The central male character initially appears charming, patient, and affectionate toward the woman he wants to marry. Once his sense of entitlement is triggered, toxic masculinity creeps in. The dynamic at the story’s core is disturbing, but watching this relationship crawl to its inevitable conclusion is consistently fascinating.
Phoebe Dynevor of Bridgerton and Alden Ehrenreich of Solo give their best performances yet as Emily and Luke. The two are casual coworkers at a hedge fund by day. By night, they’re a newly engaged couple. Emily leaves her ring at home while the two take separate routes to work. Their relationship goes against company policy, but they might not make it to the altar anyway. When a shaken Emily returns from a late meeting with her boss (Eddie Marsan), Luke fears that she was sexually assaulted. Emily reveals that she got the promotion that Luke thought was destined for him. Luke is visibly shocked, but he tries to put up a supportive front. Behind his grin, Luke likely wishes that it had been assault.
Some assume that Emily is a token female hire. Others gossip that she put out to get ahead. The truth is that the boss recognized Emily as the most qualified person for the job. Luke, meanwhile, is an expendable cog in the machine who will never be upper management material. The harder Luke tries to prove himself, the more pathetic and deplorable he becomes. As much as we come to loathe Luke, his transition from loving partner to SOB isn’t an instant 180. It’s a gradual descent as he ruins his image while trying to drag Emily down with him.
By the film’s explosive finale, it’s easy to forget that the first scenes between Emily and Luke were so likable. Even when the two engaged in a messy activity reminiscent of a certain Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song, they were a surprisingly cute couple. Thus, we understand why Emily would want to make the relationship work as Luke grows colder. There comes a point, though, where the relationship is beyond salvaging. This is where Dynevor shows us what a boss she can be, turning in a powerhouse performance.
There are moments where Fair Play risks veering into unintentional camp. Thankfully, Domont’s sharp screenplay is self-aware without ever being too on the nose. It’s an intense, brutally honest exploration of business, the bedroom, and why the two shouldn’t always intersect. That’s not to say coworkers can’t make a romantic relationship work, but they need to accept two things upfront. At home, they’re equal partners. At work, one may answer to the other, and you shouldn’t assume that it’ll be the woman taking coffee orders. For those looking to put their relationship to the test, Fair Play is one hell of a date movie.