When the Gender Roles are Reversed, Egos Get Bruised in the Gripping Workplace Thriller, “Fair Play”
Gender roles and feminism (along with their complexities) are topics often discussed in Hollywood. Films such as “Barbie“, “Hustlers”, and “Lady Bird” have done justice to highlighting the struggles that women face in society, but none of these iconic films come close to the raw and authentic storytelling of “Fair Play.”
Through the life of a modern-day couple, the film brilliantly captures just how callous society can be when a woman is in a position of power.
“Fair Play” begins with a couple, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), who are obsessed with each other. They live together, drink together, party together, have passionate sex, and get engaged in the most unconventional way. Life is going great for them, but the problem is their relationship is forbidden.
They both work as analysts for One Crest Capital, a cutthroat Manhattan hedge fund. If word gets out that they have been secretly dating for two years, they will be fired immediately. They manage to keep their relationship under wraps, but things suddenly change when one day at work, a portfolio manager (PM) is fired.
Rumor has it that Luke will be the next PM, but the rumors turn out to be false when Campbell (Eddie Marsan), the boss, promotes Emily to PM due to her qualifications and successful investment rates. This promotion causes a strain and the once-loving couple slowly begin to resent each other. This resentment eventually leads to violent encounters and a shocking conclusion.
The film opens up the door to conversations that are often had but are never taken seriously. When the power dynamics shift and the woman starts earning more than the man, how does it affect the relationship? Well, from the tumultuous experience of Emily and Luke, it’s fair to say that there’s a colossal impact.
The couple seems so perfect until Emily gets that promotion. The couple seems so perfect until Emily gets a fat cheque at work for closing a deal. The couple seems so perfect until Emily is out partying with the men at work into the wee hours of the night and blowing thousands of dollars at a strip club. There’s only so much “I’m so happy for you” that Luke can fake till his true colors start to materialize.
His ego is bruised and the jealousy brewing in his heart causes him to not only sabotage Emily’s new position but to do the unthinkable: rape her. He has to exert his dominance somehow, and since he can’t do it at work, he has to do it in the bedroom.
But why do men like Luke get so threatened by their female partner’s success? Why do they feel the need to be the “top dog” in the relationship? The simple answer is that society has conditioned men to think that they must be the providers. They must be the ones bringing in the most income.
This mentality has been ingrained in their brains since childhood, so the minute the gender roles shift and they no longer have that financial power (which has, by the way, been used as a means to control women for centuries), they feel inferior, embarrassed, and tread towards the paths of hatred, spite, and resentment.
Times are changing, and the sooner men like Luke realize that the better. Due to education, enlightenment, delay in child bearing, and the brilliance of the #MeToo movement, a lot of women earn significantly more than men. They are starting to realize that they are more than just homemakers and baby-making machines.
“Fair Play” also dives into the disrespect that women face in the workplace. Luke isn’t the only man threatened by Emily’s career success, her male co-workers are, too. Repeatedly, they not-so-subtly suggest that she “slept her way to the top.” Apparently a woman can never get a promotion unless she spreads her legs for her boss.
Also, they try to downplay her work by talking over her at meetings, ignoring whatever she tells them to do, and casually laying in sexist insults disguised as jokes. Even Luke, the one person who’s supposed to be her defender, tells Emily that the men at work don’t take her seriously because she dresses like a “fucking cupcake.”
Due to this observation, Emily switches up her wardrobe and takes the Steve Jobs approach, but that changes nothing. She’s still called a “dumb fucking bitch” by Campbell and is forced to constantly prove her worth. Moral of the story? Women can’t win in society, and it’s a sad reality.
Phoebe Dynevor’s portrayal of Emily is quite the surprise. Many know her as the polished debutante damsel in Netflix’s periodic drama “Bridgerton,” but she showcases her range in this erotica thriller, proving that she can be both a cookie-cutter princess and a badass female lead.
Alden Ehrenreich also nails his role as the suave yet painfully insecure Luke. Although he has many faults, you can’t help but love him, at least slightly, because he’s very charming.
Dynevor and Ehrenreich’s chemistry onscreen is explosive; they work so well together and have such great synergy that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t engaged in real life.
The brilliance of “Fair Play” is further reiterated with an ending scene that has jaws on the floor. Emily steps away from her calm persona and asserts how she genuinely feels about her relationship with Luke through a sudden burst of violence. Many may feel that the violence is unnecessary but, honestly, it brings the film full circle.
Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play” is not just a personal film for the director (it’s loosely based on her experiences with dating and relationships) but for other women as well who are navigating the triple jeopardy of being a woman, climbing up the corporate ladder, and catering to the ego of their male partners who are threatened by their success.
The film’s exceptional plot, casting, and direction should make it a top contender for one of the best Netflix film releases of 2023.
“Fair Play” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Release Date: September 29, 2023 (Theatrical Release); October 6, 2023 (Netflix)
Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes, and 3 seconds
Streaming Service: Netflix
Director: Chloe Domont
Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan, Rich Sommer, Sebastian de Souza, and Patrick Fischler