The latest Netflix relationship drama, Fair Play, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?
Acquired by Netflix out of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Fair Play is the feature film debut for writer/director Chloe Domont, who worked predominantly as a TV writer & director on shows such as Ballers, Billions, and Shooter. The film was also a first for the Rian Johnson (Knives Out) led T-Street Emerging Filmmaker Initiative as Fair Play was the debut production under their new venture.
Set in the world of high finance in New York City, the story focuses on the relationship between two hedge fund analysts, Emily (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Solo: A Star Wars Story star Alden Ehrenreich), whose secret intimate relationship reaches new heights when Luke proposes to Emily at his brother’s wedding. However, when a coveted promotion arises at their firm, once supportive exchanges between lovers begin to sour into something more sinister. The young couple’s relationship is pushed to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent pledge of commitment. As the power dynamics irrevocably shift in their relationship, the couple must face the true price of success and the unnerving limits of ambition.
Described as a reckoning of sorts for Domont after years of unhealthy relationships with men who were threatened by her ambition & accomplishments, Fair Play unpacks a lot of the wrongs with the current standards & roles each gender has to live up to or play along with when it comes to their careers. Women afraid of success for the potential emasculation of their partners or male peers; men raised on the belief that they have to provide, lead, and conquer their respective fields in order to fulfill their birth rights. The story plays as the intersection of those tragic & destructive forces where the fragile ego of the man destined to take his seat at the throne is upended when his closest ally moves up instead.
When asked in the press interview for the film how the themes she explored spoke to modern gender roles, Domont explained how, on some level, we are all Emily and Luke:
“How much power ingrained dynamics still have over us. How incompatible a capitalist society is with love. How difficult it is to sustain a relationship. How hard it is for men to feel worthwhile when roles and rules are changing faster than we can adapt. How trapped women feel by their success. How we’re all scared to talk about it. How we still can’t figure each other out. How we’re scrambling — for connection, for meaning, for proof.”
Throughout most of the film, especially in the first 2 acts, Domont’s execution on her themes and orchestration of the chemistry & believability of her leads is worthy of praise and some of the most compelling work of the year so far. Each unsettling moment of insecurity, each unhinged rationalization, each gaslighting power play; they all work to ratchet up the tension to the mania that unfolds in the film’s final act.
However, as much as I admired the film’s construction and many admirable messages, I must admit it took me multiple watches of the final 30 minutes to be more at peace with how Domont landed her story. Initially, like many who may see it this weekend for the first time, I felt borderline unclean seeing what transpired at the couple’s engagement party and the fallout of those events. Noting in that previous press interview that she likes to take audiences on a ride, keep them on the edge, shock them, mortify them, (and) move them, Domont clearly does that and more, which may make for a more polarizing response from her viewers. Upon my first encounter, as things got uglier and uglier, I found it tough to live in the gray where the momentum of the story seemed to falter. However, I don’t think a story like this is meant for tidiness or righteousness, nor was Domont’s intentions. While it may take away its rewatchability, the film’s final moments do speak to the intensity of the relationship, the cutthroat nature of their chosen careers, and the volatility of the gender role purgatory we find ourselves in during the modern era. It may not be pretty. It may not be what we envisioned for Emily after she’s put through hell. But it seems more accurate to the toxic situation laid before us for the previous 90 minutes.
While the landing may be in question to some, the performance and chemistry in its main cast is inarguably successful. Dynevor & Ehrenreich hold the tension in every permutation of their destructive affair and veteran supporting performances from Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan; Sherlock Holmes) & Rich Sommer (Mad Men) heighten the depravity & constant anxiety of the hedge fund environment.
Overall, Fair Play may not play nice with everyone who watches it, but its messages, performances, & well-constructed tension make the uneasy ride worthwhile. An impressive feature film debut for Chloe Domont with incredible chemistry between Dynevor & Ehrenreich. The film begs for you to respond, even if that response is pure disgust. However, after multiple viewings, I believe my response lands more in admiration for its craftsmanship than repulsion for its conclusion.
Watch Fair Play If You Liked
- Promising Young Woman
- Fatal Attraction
- An Education
- North Country
MVP of Fair Play
Phoebe Dynevor as Emily
While known primarily for her television work, most notably on Netflix’s popular costume drama Bridgerton, Phoebe Dynevor proves with her performance in Fair Play that she will not be limited to one side of the fence. In Emily, Dynevor displays an incredible range tapping into the fear of emasculating her partner over celebrating her worthy successes and cratering slowly under the weight of his jealous hostility and gaslighting remarks. Her chemistry with her co-lead Ehrenreich is undeniable and brings out the best in the film’s gritty storytelling. Adding in her solid performance in Bank of Dave earlier this year, we may be seeing the breakout of a young movie star in the making.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?
A gripping thriller with a brutal, unflinching delivery. Worthwhile themes layered over less than morally sound leads living in a cutthroat world of high finance. While it may rub people the wrong way by its conclusion (including myself the first time around), that is largely by design.