British actress Phoebe Dynevor is best known for her work in the first season of Bridgerton, Netflix’s period-piece soap opera about a wealthy family and their romantic entrapments. The actor adopts a (decent) American accent for the starring role in writer/director Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, a tense relationship thriller about a young, ambitious couple torn apart when their careers in high-pressure hedge fund management start progressing at vastly different speeds. Domont cut her teeth in television, namely on corporate dramas often set in the financial industry, including Suits, Billions and Ballers. With her feature-length debut, the filmmaker turns this typically male-dominated industry on its head by centering Dynevor’s Emily as a woman who’s every bit as capable as her colleagues, even if they don’t believe that’s the case.
Emily and partner Luke (Alden Ehrenreich, Oppenheimer) are madly in love as the film opens, attending a wedding for his family; in fact, they can’t keep their hands off each other, and they slip away to the bathroom for a bit of personal time. Their clandestine adventure gets sidelined when Luke emerges from some oral stimulation with red all over his face; though the lovers laugh off this intimate moment, it’s a telling note to start from: there will be blood. In the midst of the moment, an engagement ring falls out of Luke’s pocket and by the end of the evening, the two are engaged and blissfully happy. It won’t last.
Colleagues at a busy—and cut-throat—hedge fund, the couple keep their relationship under wraps while at work. Not only is it against policy, but it would complicate both of their jobs, ones that require as much human resources finesse as financial market awareness. Word in the cubicles is that there’s a promotion in the offing, and though Emily is originally convinced it will go to Luke, it’s actually her that boss Campbell (a deliciously skeevy Eddie Marsan) elevates to Portfolio Manager, seeing in her the skills and talent required for the job that, according to him, Luke simply doesn’t possess. In a healthy, well-adjusted relationship, this news would be greeted with delight and optimism, one partner’s success as much a reason to celebrate as the other’s.
But that’s not the film Domont has written (and had she, it would’ve been very boring). Instead, the news shakes Luke to his core, bringing into question everything he thinks he knows about himself, from his role in their relationship to his aptitude at his professional calling. But in Domont’s best narrative decision, this is not Luke’s story—it’s Emily’s, and it’s riveting. As any woman who’s ever been promoted to a role that puts men in a position to report up to them can attest, asserting one’s authority in this new dynamic is never easy, and Emily’s experience is no different. From colleagues second-guessing her worthiness to her new peers questioning if she knows the business as well as they do, she’s taking it from all sides. Which would be hard enough, but it’s also coming from Luke, too, who’s incapable of separating himself from his job long enough to see that Emily might just know what the hell she’s doing in a position he wasn’t chosen for.
As the stakes of Emily’s deals grow larger, so do the repercussions of any mistakes and the overall impact this changing dynamic has on her relationship with Luke. Domont skillfully builds a tension through the film’s second act that has the audience wondering how it’s going to eventually, inevitably all come crashing down. The film’s muted tones and many dark rooms where shady deals are made all contribute to an ominous sense of anticipation—either Emily is going to crack under all the pressure, or someone’s going to do the cracking for her. It shouldn’t be as refreshing as it is, but seeing all of this play out from a woman’s perspective feels novel—she’s as afraid for her safety around a man growing ever more unhinged as she is determined to hold her ground and prove herself in an industry that ultimately doesn’t care about her. Fair Play is a compelling and accomplished first film from Domont, and though Dyvenor isn’t always as fierce as the role requires, she capably carries this contemporary relationship thriller to its satisfying end.
Fair Play is now playing in select theaters.
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