‘Fair Play’ Review: Anxiety-Inducing Look at Gender-Dynamics (Sundance 2023)

In the last few years, we as a society have been evaluating how we approach office interactions in the workplace, ranging from what’s deemed as acceptable behavior and what to look for in terms of a toxic work environment. Writer-director Chloe Domont’s opera prima Fair Play is designed to make us realize our workplace interactions and our relationship dynamics in a different light.

Fair Play is the story of a recently engaged couple working in a cutthroat hedge fund firm in New York City. Problems arise when Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) hears a rumor that his boyfriend, Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), will get a new promotion. Still, when the next day rolls around, we discover that Emily would get the promotion instead. Luke adamantly congratulates Emily on her new position, and everything slowly spirals. From late-night phone calls from the boss and hangouts with “the boys” from the office, Luke gets increasingly jealous of what is happening, from the position he felt stolen from to his fiance spending more time with the men in the office. 

A fascinating element Fair Play provides us with is how it tackles our preconceived notions of how women are treated and function in a workplace scenario head-on. It always seems as if a woman gets immediately judged when they go up the corporate ladder, as people generally say that it wasn’t earned or that it was because of ulterior motives. This becomes a different experience when a man rises up the ranks, as they never get questioned. When men get late-night calls from the boss because of an imminent deadline, or when they go partying with the higher-ups in the office, no one ever bats an eye. Yet, when a woman does it, the context changes. It’s a fascinating exploration of how gender and power dynamics function in the office and how we still rely on heavily problematic stereotypes. 

Another element of note is how the movie uses sound design, since a chunk of the film relies on whispers regarding how Emily is being perceived around the office and how Luke has to bottle all of this up as he works with her. The music by Brian Mcomber adds to the anxiety-inducing scenario our leads are pushed in; as the situation gets progressively more toxic, the music and the cinematography by Mennos Mans accentuate the situation by depending on close-ups of our leads and long shots showing brief glances seen from afar around the office. The frame is generally filled with people and computers, making your eye wander as it absorbs all the overwhelming elements displayed on the screen. 

Phoebe Dynevor crafts complexity, layers, and nuance with her portrayal of Emily, and you see her slow transformation from caring and endearing to cutthroat and ruthless, something akin to observing Nicholas Braun as Greg in Succession, where you see an innocent, meek young man who yearns for more and as the seasons’ progress, he slowly turns into sometimes an even worse monster than other members of the Roy family. You feel for her character, as Emily has to juggle her new job and the insecurities of her fiance. This compounds due to the fact that she also is proving to everyone in the office she deserves to be in the position she’s in because of her skill set. Alden Ehrenreich starts supporting Emily in her new job and slowly becomes antagonistic toward her. They both slowly spiral into a toxic, ruthless, and merciless relationship. 

An element of note is how commercial the film feels in tone and style while maintaining the core of the thesis it wants to put out there. This has much to do with Chloe Domont’s experience as a director for hit TV shows such as Billions, Ballers, and Star Trek: Discovery. Her slickness shows in the visuals and the pacing of the piece. It goes in line with movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Wall Street (1987), and even Uncut Gems (2019). Fair Play examines the gender and power dynamics in the workplace while exploring the intricate couple dynamics within the same space. It’s visceral, cruel, raw, and urgent with the times.

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