Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor play a young couple clawing their way up the corporate ladder in Chloe Domont's dour thriller.
In the cut throat world of corporate trading, there’s little room for sentimentality. Young lovers Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) seem cognisant of this, even as they carry on a clandestine affair after falling for one another while serving as Wall Street analysts at the same hedge company. When the firing of a colleague creates a power vacuum, it’s assumed that Luke will step up to fill it, to the delight of the couple – until their boss Campbell (a woefully miscast Eddie Marsan) throws a spanner in the works by opting to promote Emily instead.
While Emily promises to make sure Luke is next in line for a cushy project manager job, the new power imbalance in their relationship – along with the toll of keeping it a secret from their colleagues – puts considerable strain on the couple. In theory, this might set the stage for an interesting examination of gender and sexual politics in domestic and professional settings. How might Luke deal with feeling emasculated by his fiance’s success? Will Emily be able to make it as the only women in a bullish male team? Unfortunately Chloe Domont’s debut drama (which she directed and wrote) fails to make the most of its scintillating premise.
Out of Sundance some were quick to herald Fair Play as an erotic thriller, but this feels like an inaccurate descriptor – while the film does feature several sex scenes, the lack of chemistry between Dynevor and Ehrenreich and poor direction means these moments are devoid of intimacy, and serve as a lazy shorthand for emotional connection between the characters. As the film drags on it becomes difficult to see why exactly Luke and Emily are together in the first place, aside from their professional proximity. They profess their love for one another, but don’t seem to like each other very much, and there’s no sense of their identities outside of their workplace – or even that for them, the workplace is their entire identity.
For a brief moment it seems as though Luke is about to fall down a dangerous MRA rabbit hole when he discovers an online self-help course with queasy alpha male rhetoric, but in its struggle to keep focus on both protagonists, the film plays as a dour version of Working Girl as Emily tries to retain the killer instinct which her boss saw in her.
It’s a shame, as Ehrenreich is a compelling presence, believable as the sort of entitled young man able to switch between charming and conniving at a moment’s notice. Dynevor is more of a blank slate, and there’s little that sets her apart from the current crop of young British actresses heralded as the next big thing. But ultimately the failure is with the script, which lacks imagination or insight, culminating in an act of sexual violence that feels predictable and almost spiteful in light of the fact we’ve barely come to know these characters. Like fellow Sundance disappointment Cat Person, it attempts to take on contemporary ‘Battle of the Sexes’ territory, but the worthiness of its subject matter alone is not enough to save this buttoned-up psychodrama from fizzling out before it really catches fire.
Published 27 Jan 2023
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