Fair Play Review: Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor are a sick couple

Sundance: Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich shared a tainted chemistry in Chloe Domont’s debut that’s bound to explode like a bomb.


In love, war and finance, not everything is fair. In fact, it’s ugly, cruel, sexy, and trashy.

Writer/director Chloe Domont’s vicious assault on ambition, attraction, masculinity and feminine feminism “Fair Play” explodes like a bomb, peppered with the explosive and doubly depraved chemistry of leading actresses Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich. You play a New York couple who can’t keep their hands off each other. Both also work in finance. They also happen to work at the same investment firm, but none of their co-workers is aware of their sophisticated and long-standing breach of company policy. What begins as a surface film, a sort of refreshment on the psychosexual thrillers of the 1980s, led by the likes of Adrian Lyne and all but dead in Hollywood since then, then meanders into another perhaps more reminiscent of HBO’s financial episode Industry. remind. then another and another. With the final jaw-dropping cut to the black, you’ll have no idea what just blew your mind.

When we first meet Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich) they are at his relatives’ wedding and decide to sneak into the bathroom to fuck discreetly. Here’s something you’ve probably never seen in a mainstream American film before: After Luke lunges at Emily and kisses her passionately, they both realize she’s on her period, and suddenly her formal clothes are spattered with menstrual blood. “We look like we slaughtered a chicken.” But there’s more. An engagement ring has fallen out of Luke’s pocket, so he gets on his knees, spattered with her blood, and asks her to marry him. She says of course I will.

This is just the beginning of Emily and Luke’s shitty odyssey, and it sets the stage for the twisted relationship arc that follows, and even a much later scene that also takes place in a bathroom during the film’s cracked coda. If you’re not financially savvy, you might leave the heady machinations of a cutthroat financial firm in the cold, but whatever: stay for the insane power games between Emily and Luke. They’re both analysts at Crest Capital, tucked away in a shiny, glass skyscraper in Manhattan’s Financial District that’s mostly a boys’ club, but one where grown men cry. During mandatory workplace behavior training, a poor analyst who appears to have lost millions to the company collapses in the nearest office, whining to nowhere while destroying his computer and desk with a golf club. So much for its certificate of conformity.

When Emily hears a rumor that Luke is about to be promoted to take his place, she doesn’t seem threatened at all. Instead, she literally showers him with love and attention and sex and champagne. (These two haven’t found a surface they can’t get it on.) But all of that is turned on its head when he’s called into a darkened bar at 2 a.m. by company president Campbell (a brilliantly insidious Eddie Marsan). It turns out that Emily is the one who gets promoted to PM or portfolio manager. (You’re forgiven for not keeping up with all of the film’s snappy jargon, as Domont tries less to smack one over you than to fully embed you in this meticulously researched world.)

This news sends their relationship to a breaking point as Luke can’t hide how emasculated he is by the turn of events. Ehrenreich is adept at evoking our sympathies for Luke in a way that is surprising even to the writer/director: he’s not the easily projectable silhouette of a toxic man, but more complicated, pathetic, at times hot, whining, unctuous, and sad. Emily, electrified by her new status, now zips into the office in a black company car, calls the shots and even chooses the strip clubs where she and her fellow financial brothers party hard. (This bunch is a perfectly cast band, led by Sebastian De Souza, Rich Sommer, Sia Alipour, and Jamie Wilkes.) But life on the home front shifts beneath her. Her harping mom won’t stop calling because she’s planning an engagement party, and Luke has stopped having sex with her.

Luke starts screwing up at work, risking a lot on a portfolio that ends up costing the company $25 million, only for Emily to swoop in with a money-making unicorn. The epic disparagement of Luke’s masculine artistry that follows – Ehrenreich has such perfectly chilling “Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ Eyes” – defies easy explanation. And the sexual fumes Emily seems to be wheezing from his desperation resonates very well with Luke and Emily in mid-coitus that we saw in the film’s first scene.

Emily can get naughty too, and she may look like a nice girl, a china doll on the outside, but that’s soon shattered. “You dress like a frigging cupcake,” Luke hurls, but she has far more devastating arrows up her quiver. That said, Domont’s direction and screenplay never cross our sympathies — and indeed, we’re often instantly repelled, confused, aroused by the messy manipulations seething between them. Fair Play argues that ambition and desire are one and the same and are equally capable of destruction. You might find yourself stuck in the same sentence for Emily and Luke — until, of course, you’re not. And when Emily Luke spits out lines like, “I’ll save your career if you eat my pussy,” you don’t know whether to laugh, cheer, wince, or duck under your seat because you know what’s coming.

The filmmaking is sleek and brutal to accommodate Domont’s ever-changing loyalties, with the austere exterior photographed by Menno Mans matching the cold interiors of the people on screen. But for all its moments, set in corporate spaces and places devoid of any life, hot blood flows under “Fair Play,” which has at least one other deeply degrading sex scene to match the not-so-cold candor. By the end of this steamy, razor-sharp, barking movie — you’ll understand the last bit as you watch it — you realize these two deserve each other and we’re more than happy to merrily go to hell with them.

Grade: A-

Fair Play had its world premiere in the US Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the US.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/fair-play-review-alden-ehrenreich-phoebe-dynevor-1234802259/ Fair Play Review: Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor are a sick couple

Lindsay Lowe

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