Wednesday, September 27, 2023

All's not fair in love and at the office

 Create a toxic workplace in which competitive juices aggressively flow. Add a romance between two employees who are vying for advancement and you've got the makings of a crisp movie. 
  If you didn't already think office romances were a bad idea, director Chloe Domont's Fair Play should seal the deal.
  Domont deals with an office relationship in which the male partner (Alden Ehrenreich) can't conceal his simmering resentment about a promotion awarded to his fiancee (Phoebe Dynevor), a financial whiz-kid who works at the same hedge fund. 
  By the end of the movie, Domont, who also wrote the screenplay,  can be accused of going over-the-top, but she deserves credit for not holding back. When she fires, she wants the bullet to hit.
  Defying a company policy forbidding inter-office romance, Dynevor's Emily and Ehrenreich's Luke live together with plans to marry. To avoid discovery, they arrive at the office separately and never act like anything but colleagues.
    At first, Luke insists he's proud of the advancement Emily has earned. He assures her that he fully supports her, a claim to which you may find yourself thinking, "Yeah, right." 
     The matter is further complicated because Luke, a financial analyst, will be working for Emily. She's now his fiancee and his boss, not the best arrangement for a satisfying happily-ever-after.
     Domont often treats sex between Luke and Emily as an act of aggression, perhaps because these two lovers can't hide their competitive egos under the covers. 
     In moves that may remind you of Neil LaBute's 1997 In the Company of Men, Domont shows that the atmosphere at Crest Capital reeks of faux bonhomie and real brutality. The boss (Eddie Marsan) makes no attempt to hide his fangs.  A low-key Marsan leaves no doubt that the firm's chief can go for the jugular. He's like a coiled snake.
     It would be difficult for a director to make this kind of movie without examining the heavy masculine vibe generated in the office. To show she's up to it, Emily joins her male colleagues at a bar where they watch pole dancers. She tries to prove that she can be as hard a drinker as her male companions.
     Initially, Emily tries to help Luke be promoted, presumably so that the two can be on equal footing again. When her attempts fail, Luke inadvisedly takes matters into his own hands. He embarrasses himself with a career-wrecking speech he makes to Marsan's character.
      We know that when things sour between Emily and Luke -- each well-played by Dynevor and Ehrenreich -- the resultant breakup won't be pretty. It's also not entirely believable, but Domont isn't playing around. Fair Play keeps us involved, even during the times when we wonder whether Domont might be pushing things too far.


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