Fair Play: An Appreciation
October 30, 2023 | 488 words | Movies, Sexual Politics
After making a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the new movie Fair Play received only a limited theatrical release in September before its streaming debut on Netflix earlier this month. It is billed as a drama/mystery/thriller, and after watching it last night I would add the word “tragedy” to that list as well.
The writer-director Chloe Domont has delivered a richly detailed story of young love gone awry in the workplace, as told from the woman’s point of view. The male lead (Luke) finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the female lead’s (Emily) professional ascent. Adding to the mix is how they are both putting in killer hours as junior analysts at the same cutthroat Manhattan hedge fund.
Ms. Domont has said in interviews the story is based on her own experience in the film and TV industry, where her success so far (she is only 36) has not felt like a “total win,” because as she “got big” the men she has dated have tended to feel small.
From what I can gather from reviews and internet postings the movie is being celebrated as an exhilarating tale of female empowerment. And it is certainly that. But I believe Domont has created a complex work of art by not settling for simply mounting a stirring example of that popular polemic.
The male lead (played Alden Ehrenreich) is more than a bundle of insecurities who starts whining and lashing out the minute his girlfriend scores a big promotion. And the female lead (played by Phoebe Dynevor) is not just a single-minded careerist out to use and abuse her boyfriend on a relentless climb up the corporate ladder.
These lovers come across as sympathetic characters right from the start. They are each presented as intelligent, hard-working, and confident in their abilities. It is obvious they are crazy about each other and care about the other’s welfare. This immediately draws the audience in and makes viewers interested in how their story will unfold.
Which is why I think this film ultimately qualifies as a tragedy, more than anything else. Both protagonists end up betraying their better nature in a quest for success, by failing to live up to their bright promise. Not just as a happily-ever-after couple, because we all know there is never any guarantee of that. But as decent and reasonable human beings.
We see their once-strong relationship slowly unravel, as a series of stressful situations prompts each of them to take turns cracking under enormous pressure. The coarser side of their respective personalities is revealed in those moments, completely eroding what they shared at the opening credits. The writer-director leans in to this coarseness, giving it full expression and letting the audience gauge its corrosive effect.
It is the overriding sense of “there but for the grace of God go I” that makes Fair Play a compelling – and at times unsettling – cinematic experience.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.