Fair Play Ending Explained: Phoebe Dynevor Could Have Gone Further

Fair Play has been sold since its rapturous reception at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year as a throwback to the type of erotic thrillers of the 1980s and ‘90s which were once Adrian Lyne’s bread and butter: cold, sexy, tension-builders about the fucks, mental and otherwise, men and women give in insistently “modern” situations. However, this sales pitch is a bit misleading. While Domont uses her feature-length directorial debut to ratchet tension until your discomfort is to a roaring boil, the only orgasmic release is when Emily finally gets her long overdue justice with a knife’s point in the final scene. 

Otherwise, the film is the anti-erotic thriller due to the myriad ways it inverts this subgenre’s infamous tropes about (male) titillation and often shockingly conservative gender politics intended to punish the independent, single, and unmarried women of the story.

Indeed, Fair Play begins with Emily making a spur of the moment decision to agree to marry Luke in a hotel bathroom, but the rest of the film, all the way to its abrupt ending, is about Emily being forced to see why that decision was a doomed mistake from the jump—and how Luke’s nice guy charisma may be palpable (he is played by Alden Ehrenreich, after all), but the warning signs were always there that assholes are going to asshole. Consider we do not see the title card until after Luke also tells Emily the morning following their engagement, “I wish we could tell the whole world,” even as he requires her to take the ring off and leave it on the kitchen counter so no one at work knows they’re engaged… or even together.

The poisoned pill dynamic at the heart of Fair Play is about how on the surface these two seem so much alike. Yet familiarity can just as much breed a false sense of affection as contempt. Emily and Luke work at the same cutthroat hedge fund firm on Wall Street that is ruled over like a totalitarian fiefdom by their boss of bosses, Campbell (Eddie Marsan at his most reptilian and coldblooded). Office romances are forbidden, yet one wonders if that would really be so enforced if a couple had reached the point of matrimony. Not that Luke will even let Emily consider the idea; he’s afraid it will harm both of their chances for promotion, and that is what he wants most in the world.

The two work as ambitious and hungry analysts on equal footing within the firm. It also puts them on equal footing at home during the film’s early scenes where Dynevor and Ehrenreich reveal spectacular chemistry. After that one happy night at the beginning, we find them the next morning wrapped around each other on the floor. It apparently was ground zero of their celebration. But by the following morning, the pair are sleeping rigidly apart from each other, looking at the ceiling.

The cause of this, of course, is that Emily got the promotion Luke thought was his. Earlier that day, a midlevel guy at their company was fired and had a severe meltdown on his way out the door. Instead of a warning sign of a terrible work culture, both Luke and Emily see it as the opportunity to move up, with rumors suggesting Luke was the one pegged for the job. Yet when Campbell drunkenly calls Emily at 2 am, she finds out the job is hers, so long as she plays along with the boys’ club mentality of management. This means drinking scotch at 2 a.m. at a posh downtown bar, or (later) being the “cool girl” who doesn’t mind her fellow managers like to spend their happy hours buying lap dances from strippers.


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