FAIR PLAY, a relationship and workplace drama from Chloe Domont, perhaps chases triumphant moments too keenly to provide depth of cinematic flavour. However, the sexual and professional sparring of characters embodied by a compelling lead couple gives it a sugar rush of a story with a very bitter aftertaste.
Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor play Emily and Luke, respectively: a couple living together and working as analysts at a high-pressure hedge fund, with that pressure further cranked by the secrecy of their prohibited relationship. When a more powerful position opens up at the company, Emily is promoted, to the surprise of both lovers. The shifting power dynamic is one Luke struggles to deal with, and that instability starts to send their home lives and behaviour off-kilter.
“Both actors deliver compelling performances that communicate Luke’s rapidly surfacing fragility and Emily’s battle between sympathising with Luke or her exasperation with his rising jealousy and selfishness.”
The film starts with an intense sex scene, within which a slight twist promises some originality behind the portrayal of relationships in the film. Given how it plays out, much of it hangs on the couple’s chemistry and the ability of Ehrenreich and Dynevor to bounce off one another. Both actors deliver compelling performances that communicate Luke’s rapidly surfacing fragility and Emily’s battle between sympathising with Luke or her exasperation with his rising jealousy and selfishness. Both characters are fallible (even if not equally so), an essential component of this story. As the film progresses, although male fragility and toxic masculinity of the workplace become the thematic antagonists, Emily’s minor misjudgments are needed to maintain complexity, as the film portrays a complicated personal situation. If FAIR PLAY has any significant faults, it is that the characters’ behaviour is amplified to the point of drowning out that complexity.
“In amping up the drama, the film undoubtedly grips attention but demands a more significant suspension of disbelief. Abusive relationships, toxic workplaces, and sexual violence rarely play out with the volatility displayed in FAIR PLAY…”
As the film starts to crescendo, the script looks for ways for Luke to cross the Rubicon and for Emily to have triumphant moments. Some aspects of this are handled superbly by Domont in her directorial role: a critical confrontational moment in the film is delivered with a brutality that cracks through the screen. However, in her script-writing role, the dialogue becomes very on-the-nose, lacking in the inciting scenes’ subtlety and originality. In amping up the drama, the film undoubtedly grips attention but demands a more significant suspension of disbelief. Abusive relationships, toxic workplaces, and sexual violence rarely play out with the volatility displayed in FAIR PLAY and are often a lot more insidious and quiet. This escalating tone makes the characters slightly less tangible, even if Domont’s film is clearly pitched in a different key to recent work like Kitty Green’s THE ASSISTANT, TV show Big Little Lies, or even fellow Sundance graduate RESURRECTION (the latter amplifies events beyond reality, but the central abusive relationship is terrifyingly low key).
There is no doubt that FAIR PLAY is an engrossing drama, but the chosen route leaves a few strands unexplored, such as Luke’s engagement with misogynistic online self-help media. The end effect of these loose strands is a much more predictable film, some of which hangs on supposedly intelligent people displaying a startling lack of awareness or deduction.
FAIR PLAY may not be as smart and original as it initially seems, but the momentum, central performances, and cranked-up drama are engaging. Although it’s perhaps a shame it neglects its more original start, the film that plays out is an engrossing takedown of fragile male entitlement and the roles many inhabit to advance despite it.