Synopsis: An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement.
Stars: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan, Rich Sommer, Sebastian De Souza
Director: Chloe Domont
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: For years now, I’ve been listening to the You Must Remember This podcast, a painstakingly well-researched look into “the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Hosted by Karina Longworth, the early episodes focused on various topics, but eventually, the spotlight was shone on a particular theme. Right now, Longworth is in a multi-episode arc of ‘Erotic ‘90s’, a follow-up to last year’s ‘Erotic ‘80s’, and it’s all about, you guessed it, the rise and fall of films that put sex front and center. From 9 ½ Weeks to Showgirls, Basic Instinct to Henry & June, it’s a fascinating deconstruction of the genre and the players dealt in the game.
While the era of the sophisticated erotic thriller has passed, I think a film like Fair Play would be added to Longworth’s list if she revisited the topic in another decade. In less considered hands, the film could have been your standard corporate ladder-climbing fling, but writer/director Chloe Domont wants the effect of this grappling for power affair to last long after the credits have finished. Was I tempted to give Fair Play a 10/10 for opening with Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’ off the bat? Maybe. It was the perfect way into this sexy thriller set in a sleek modern NYC where men and women supposedly work on a level playing field, but everyone knows the same old rules still apply.
As a young couple working at the same high-risk hedge fund, Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton) and Alden Ehrenreich (Oppenheimer) are content with hiding their inter-office affair (a no-no), but all that changes when she lands the promotion they both thought he would get. The relationship is tested when he believes she did more than be good at her job to get the bump, and she sees his distrust and downward spiral as a cowardly red flag of their supposed future together. The more she succeeds in the eyes of the head honcho (a smarmy Eddie Marsan, Atomic Blonde, doing a fishy NYC accent), the more her once supportive boyfriend’s suspicion grows.
I’ve yet to experience the pop culture phenomenon of Bridgerton, so this was my first substantial exposure to Dynevor on screen, and she knocked my socks off. The role is tricky because it must be both confident and mildly apologetic (in an unfortunate way women are often asked to be in a male-dominated corporate setting) without coming off as milquetoast, and Dynevor walks that line exceptionally well. She shares strong chemistry with Ehrenreich, who, on paper, truly has a thankless role of playing a character we know will make a series of terrible choices even though all he must do is make one right one for everything to turn around. Both work together well in conveying Domont’s message about masculine toxicity in workplaces and relationships that is less about behavior and more about idealism.
The final twenty minutes of Fair Play get unpleasant for various reasons; some work in context with the characters as they progress, and some seem to come out of the ether. Watching the film with a packed audience at the Toronto International Film Festival made it clear whose side the public was on, but when I watched this again at home, I found that the finale might push those on the fence right into the muddy waters of uncertainty. Still, I enjoyed Domont’s insistence on both characters never backing down…even amid certain (personal and professional) ruin.
In Select Theaters September 29, 2023 – CLICK HERE for ticketing website with the theatrical locations.
Releasing Globally on Netflix October 6, 2023