Chloe Domont’s Fair Play Reveals a Rigged Game Between Men and Women

In a novel published in 1578 John Lyly used the phrase “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” Although the novel itself has vanished from collective memory, the phrase “All’s fair in love and war” has been often repeated fostering the notion that love itself is equivalent to a battlefield where rules of traditional civility can be suspended. Chloe Domont’s Fair Play demonstrates the adage imagines that there is a level playing field, that enemies and lovers are clearly defined. However, it is part of the patriarchal ideation that creates gendered wars because the idea of a woman being more successful than a man in his chosen field is viewed as being potentially emasculating. The game has always been rigged for men to come out on top in every space they inhabit, especially if that space has been traditionally aggressively masculine.

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are a young “power couple” in the making. They are wildly attracted to each other and the risky world of high finance. However, they must keep their relationship secret as strict rules prevent analysts from forming intimate relationships. They go from ecstatic sex to a marriage proposal (in a scene one won’t soon forget) one night and the next morning awaken for work at One Crest Capitol leaving their apartment and arriving at the office via different routes to pretend they are only casual work acquaintances. They are playing a potentially dangerous game with their careers but that only heightens their arousal.

The game they are playing reaches new levels of risk when Emily is offered the position of Portfolio Manager over Luke who was rumoured to have it in the bag. Emily, initially believing Luke would get the job, shows only support and pride for her fiancé. When she is offered the position by Campbell (Eddie Marsden) and his chief assistant, Paul (Rich Sommer) she becomes aware that Luke was never going to be offered the position and was essentially a “charity hire” and that One Crest Capitol have been tracking her potential since she was published by the Wall Street Journal at the age of seventeen.

“Navigating a particular box” is a quote Campbell notes from Emily’s article. It’s not a random line for Domont, but indicative of what Emily will have to do to survive both the highly misogynistic boy’s club of hedge fund trading, but will also have to do at home with Luke when he almost instantly becomes icy and threatened by the fact Emily is now his boss in a job he believed he deserved despite being less skilled. For Emily to survive the game she has to negotiate “playing” different personas at work while dealing with Luke’s increasingly hostile gaslighting at home as he obsesses over a toxic “Alpha” life coach who provides him with the idea to bend reality to his will, to “Make your rules the rules to live by.”

Fair Play has been marketed as an erotic thriller but that is an entirely reductive reading of Domont’s thesis. Domont chose to set Fair Play in an industry that thrives on risk and excess and has little to no concern for the lives it damages as long as the information is good for the company and the bonuses keep flowing. It could equally have been set in the entertainment industry where one imagines Domont learned first-hand about cracking a gendered ceiling where women are exploited and if successful, side-eyed for using their perceived attractiveness to men to their advantage.

Emily’s every attempt to move Luke up the ladder is met with resentment by him. He turns from loving partner to the enemy living at home firstly implying she got the job by allowing Campbell to “try something” with her, to outright stating she’s just like a hooker the finance bros pay to have around. He belittles her appearance, withholds sex and affection, and simmers with jealousy and barely concealed rage. The pressure-cooker relationship is further exacerbated by an upcoming engagement party Emily didn’t ask for organised by her dominating mother. Luke hasn’t even informed his parents that they are engaged. Each time he says he loves Emily it is a way to control her. Somehow, naively Emily believes she can salvage the relationship if she gets Luke over the line but he’s fast devolving and turning into a risk she can’t afford to keep in her life if she wants to have her career.

Fair Play exists in a microcosmic world but has macrocosmic implications. A woman can be reduced to a “gender equity hire” or a “casting couch hire,” but what she can’t have is intrinsic value which isn’t able to be undermined by the suggestion that she slept her way to the top. No matter what level of success Emily achieves her gender is the focus and not her skill. Ironically, the only person who sees her potential is Campbell – a man who instils fear and awe from his employees and is also a man with no moral compass whatsoever. “Blame, accountability. It’s all irrelevant. Let it go. Move on,” he tells Emily after Luke tanks his own career and tries to take her down with him. So long as she’s spinning gold, she’s allowed a seat at the table, the minute she stops, she’s disposable.

In essence Emily is terrorised by her relationship with Luke, but also by her job. She’s quietly intimidated by the slimy Rory (Sebastian De Souza) who picks up on an undercurrent between herself and Luke. Emily deals with sexist aggression everywhere in the office but has to pretend to shrug it off to be accepted. She tries to frame it all as a game, but it isn’t. It’s a game she shouldn’t have to play and one with a psychological cost that unmoors her. The inevitable violence and breakdown of civility is something the audience can feel brewing but remains disconcerting and all too real.

Chloe Domont’s screenplay and direction are designed to be viscerally disturbing because despite the heightened environment in which the film is set it is a condemnation of social male privilege and the structures that have created masculine fragility to become potentially deadly. Domont is also unafraid to use irony to make her point. Almost every song chosen for the film is a love song about how a woman has become the locus for male obsession and his possession. Fair Play is clever and lacerating and proves that to even participate in a patriarchal system and hope for level treatment is an illusion that can be shattered by anything from an unsavoury implication to out-and-out gendered abuse. Sizzling, relevant, and smart filmmaking which acts as a hell of a cinematic calling card for Domont.

Director: Chloe Domont

Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan

Writer: Chloe Domont

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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