As far as addressing gender inequality goes, loud and clear messaging is the need of the hour, which is what Netflix’s new erotic thriller, Fair Play, does: hits where it hurts. And, it does hurt to accept that even today the idea of a relationship crumbling to pieces because the woman outdoes the man at work, seems closer to reality than a heartwarming romantic comedy.
The unfortunate unfiltered familiarity of its narrative is Fair Play’s strength. Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are madly in love and newly engaged. Peers at work, they have kept their relationship a secret because of company policy. Their life is the stuff of dreams until it isn’t: Emily gets promoted over Luke.
As the power dynamics at the workplace shift, the storm hits home harder than expected, both for the protagonists and the audience. The insecure and entitled Luke is stripped off his garb of the conveniently progressive and supportive partner, even as Emily, almost apologetic of being better than him, tries to protect his incredibly fragile male ego.
Fair Play is director Chloe Domont’s debut feature film, and what a solid entry. She tells an important story, and tells it as it is, without any frills whatsoever. It is almost as if she recreated an actual experience on the screen.
The dialogues are meaty and executed with a sharp delivery by both the protagonists. Phoebe shines as Emily, whose character comes full circle from being the loving girlfriend, who puts her partner first, to slowly becoming a woman who finds her footing, both at work and home, and prioritises herself. Alden’s Luke unmakes himself with equal deft as he transforms from a doting lover into a despicable fiancé, who eventually rapes his partner to reassure himself of his masculinity.
But cinema must always be aspirational, even the realist kind. And Fair Play seals the deal with its climax. Unlike most stories, where at the end the man gets away by gaslighting his partner, Emily remains unperturbed as a sobbing Luke wonders why he did what he did. Domont makes a clear distinction of right from wrong, white from black—a bold and commendable move at a time when most filmmakers prefer to remain comfortable in the grey.
Director: Chloe Domont
Genre: Erotic Thriller