Sundance movie review: Provocative drama 'Fair Play' is best of fest so far – UPI News


Jan. 24 (UPI) — Fair Play, which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, makes the strongest impression of the first half of the festival. It’s an intense drama with so much to say that it’s bound to provoke debate in audiences, members of which respond to different aspects.

Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) are analysts for a financial firm. They think their biggest problem will be telling the company they’ve been dating and became engaged — until Emily gets the promotion Luke was expecting.

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There certainly are enough layers to Fair Play for many interpretations, but here’s one. Emily’s promotion exposes Luke’s toxic masculinity, which seals his fate.

Luke’s first question when Emily shares the good news is to ask whether their boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan), tried anything sexual. He asks more than once because that’s the only way he can rationalize a woman getting a promotion.

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Emily tries to give Luke more work as an analyst to prime him for a promotion, but he’s just not good at his job. Luke’s picks lose the company millions, and Campbell is actually waiting for him to quit, but not firing him.

Finance is a good milieu for this story because the particulars are foreign enough to general audiences that the abstract takes focus. It’s clear Emily is better at it whether one understands stock picks or not.

Luke jumps on bandwagons without actually researching companies. He doubles down on bad ideas and never looks inward toward why he’s missing things other colleagues see.

Luke is the slow-moving train wreck that everyone else — Emily, the audience, certainly Campbell — can see coming but he just powers through it to the inevitable crash. Not only does he make himself a liability for Emily, but be also challenges her to love someone who can’t stop himself from self-destruction.

Emily takes it upon herself to keep up with the male culture of her other partners in the company. Whether she should or not is also open for debate, but it certainly makes Luke feel left out.

Writer-director Chloe Domont simmers this powder keg until it boils over and explodes, compounding the career stress and relationship turmoil with family expectations and obligations. Emily makes some choices that will challenge audiences, but it still comes back to Luke.

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Luke’s toxic masculinity needs to believe he’s entitled to success — that he’s inherently competent when he’s had his chance to prove it and he blew it. Instead of learning from it, he looks for reasons to explain why Campbell valued Emily more.

Luke forces Emily’s hand. If he’d just once said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t supportive enough” or “I’m sorry I blew the chance you gave me” or apologized for anything, they could have worked together.

The absence of humility inevitably leads to destruction. And that’s only one of the fascinating themes Dumont explores in Fair Play.

Netflix will release Fair Play after Sundance.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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Jan. 24 (UPI) — Fair Play, which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, makes the strongest impression of the first half of the festival. It’s an intense drama with so much to say that it’s bound to provoke debate in audiences, members of which respond to different aspects.
Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) are analysts for a financial firm. They think their biggest problem will be telling the company they’ve been dating and became engaged — until Emily gets the promotion Luke was expecting.

Advertisement

There certainly are enough layers to Fair Play for many interpretations, but here’s one. Emily’s promotion exposes Luke’s toxic masculinity, which seals his fate.
Luke’s first question when Emily shares the good news is to ask whether their boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan), tried anything sexual. He asks more than once because that’s the only way he can rationalize a woman getting a promotion.

Advertisement

Emily tries to give Luke more work as an analyst to prime him for a promotion, but he’s just not good at his job. Luke’s picks lose the company millions, and Campbell is actually waiting for him to quit, but not firing him.
Finance is a good milieu for this story because the particulars are foreign enough to general audiences that the abstract takes focus. It’s clear Emily is better at it whether one understands stock picks or not.
Luke jumps on bandwagons without actually researching companies. He doubles down on bad ideas and never looks inward toward why he’s missing things other colleagues see.
Luke is the slow-moving train wreck that everyone else — Emily, the audience, certainly Campbell — can see coming but he just powers through it to the inevitable crash. Not only does he make himself a liability for Emily, but be also challenges her to love someone who can’t stop himself from self-destruction.
Emily takes it upon herself to keep up with the male culture of her other partners in the company. Whether she should or not is also open for debate, but it certainly makes Luke feel left out.
Writer-director Chloe Domont simmers this powder keg until it boils over and explodes, compounding the career stress and relationship turmoil with family expectations and obligations. Emily makes some choices that will challenge audiences, but it still comes back to Luke.

Advertisement

Luke’s toxic masculinity needs to believe he’s entitled to success — that he’s inherently competent when he’s had his chance to prove it and he blew it. Instead of learning from it, he looks for reasons to explain why Campbell valued Emily more.
Luke forces Emily’s hand. If he’d just once said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t supportive enough” or “I’m sorry I blew the chance you gave me” or apologized for anything, they could have worked together.
The absence of humility inevitably leads to destruction. And that’s only one of the fascinating themes Dumont explores in Fair Play.
Netflix will release Fair Play after Sundance.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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