Writer/director Chloe Domont premiered her feature film debut, Fair Play, at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on January 20th. The psychological drama/thriller flaunts a fearless examination of destructive gender dynamics, yielding an intoxicating watching experience that leaves a lasting impression. Showcasing jaw-dropping performances from Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor and Brave New World’s Alden Ehrenreich, the leads play a workplace couple whose romance fizzles into a ruthless battle for power. Smartly written with tense cinematography to pair with its anxiety-inducing sequences, Fair Play is simply one of the best film debuts ever made.
Curtailing on the highs of their recent engagement, successful and thriving NY couple Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) can’t get enough of each other. They spend their days working at the same cutthroat financial firm and their nights seducing each other towards enticing bliss. But when a coveted promotion at work arises, their typical supportive exchanges begin to unravel into something darkly disparaging. And as the power dynamics irreversibly swing in their relationship, Emily and Luke must face the consequences and price of success and the unnerving limits of ambition—especially with an envious partner.
Fair Play is fearless.
In her unpredictable feature debut, writer-director Chloe Domont stares down toxic relationships and deconstructs the dynamic with masterful exposition. The film’s pair includes two successful finance analysts who won’t let a couple of HR videos on inappropriate work relationships and sexual harassment stop them from falling in love. In fact, the opening sequence loudly plays “Love to Love You Baby,” a fitting theme song for Emily and Luke, who can’t keep their hands off each other—even in a public bathroom at a wedding. But Domont intently designed these initial scenes to lure viewers into their arousing romance.
The turning point of the film begins at a rumor of a promotion for one lucky firm analyst. And when it is Emily who earns it, that triggers a hardened relationship and ruthlessness unlike anything we’ve seen before. Plagued by the volatility of their new work and home relationship dynamic thanks to insecurities, classic guilt-tripping, and a male ego so fragile, their engagement quickly trucks into breakup territory. Of course, Domont kindly makes her audiences endure some extreme levels of uneasiness first.
The underlying context that may lead viewers to a discomforting watching experience is written with razor-sharp precision. Fair Play, in essence, is about Emily’s rise to power at work and the collision with Luke’s insecurities and ego. In one instance, he drunkenly throws a subtle jab at Emily by joking that she must have been handed this opportunity because she possesses a vagina. It couldn’t possibly be because she’s simply better than him at work. Later, Luke even goes as far to accuse Emily of sleeping with the boss because… what else are women good for, right?
One of the best film debuts ever made.
Chloe Domont’s script may sound like an exaggeration of a common occurrence upon first glance. But this is reality (and one I have experienced myself). When money and love are on the line, some men simply cannot handle being second best or not good enough. And this concept of explosive dynamics within relationships once there’s an imbalance in money and power is too on the nose.
Fair Play is the kind of film that is best headed into blind. But there are two things that are good to know before the film gets a wide release. For one, Domont’s feature directorial debut contains explosive performances from the leads. While Ehrenreich is outstanding and can get even the kindest of hearts to hate his character, this is unquestionably Phoebe Dynevor’s show. Her seductive performance is one for the ages, as she comfortably commands the camera with confidence and assertiveness. I can’t shake the feeling that this performance will propel Phoebe to true stardom. And I cannot wait for the world to realize it.
Unravelling the uncomfortable collision of empowerment and ego, writer/director Chloe Domont crafts a thrilling deconstruction of romantic bliss that you can’t look away from. In one of the most accurate (and wildest) displays of toxic masculinity as it pertains to partner support, Fair Play comes out the gate swinging with intensity. And to make matters better, the final 30 minutes result in an experience so stressful that it could have you yelling at the screen. If this is the type of smart writing and directing we can expect from Domont in the future, let’s just say the state of filmmaking is in magnificent hands.