Fair Play is a new thriller drama film on Netflix that sets out to tell the tale of power imbalances based on gender roles and expectations, especially in a cutthroat corporate world. The plot is centered around a couple, Emily and Luke, who have kept their relationship secret from the world because they happen to be colleagues as well, until things turn wrong for the two. Sprinkled with scenes of erotic lovemaking, which do add to the overall conviction in the scenarios, Fair Play is a gripping watch that also focuses on pertinent contemporary issues.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
The very protagonists are introduced at the beginning of Fair Play, starting with Emily and then quickly her boyfriend Luke. Although they are visiting a grand party organized for the wedding of Luke’s uncle, the couple is pretty busy with themselves, as they are passionately in love. Excusing themselves from the events at the party, Emily and Luke slip into one of the washrooms to intensely make love. At this time, though, something falls out of the man’s pockets, making his girlfriend rather shocked and surprised. Picking up the object from the floor, which is an expensive engagement ring, Luke proposes marriage to Emily, and the couple is thrilled to get married very soon.
Although Emily excitedly texts her mother about this latest development, Luke does not do the same with his parents. In fact, the next morning, when the two get ready to leave for work, it is revealed that their relationship is still a secret to most people. This is because Emily and Luke are colleagues at the same corporate investment company. Along with the fact that the company policy disallows colleagues to get into romantic relationships, Emily and Luke are also professional competitors at the place. Because of both of these reasons, the couple hides their relationship from any of their other colleagues and bosses but then lives together in an apartment after office hours.
Very soon, a new development takes place at the fiercely competitive investment firm as well. During a meeting attended by both Emily and Luke, the current portfolio manager of the company goes through a terrible fit of anger and violence as he smashes through computers and other equipment in his room. The reason for such outrageous behavior is that the man has been fired without prior notice. Such is the work environment at the office that such firings are not very uncommon, and the meeting continues as planned. Emily soon overhears two of the analysts talking about who would be made the next portfolio manager, and the office gossip states that it is going to be Luke. The woman tells her boyfriend about this secretly, and they also celebrate the occasion in their own passionate way back at their apartment. However, every positive situation goes for a toss when Emily suddenly receives a call from a colleague at two in the night, asking her to meet at the earliest.
Why does Emily and Luke’s relationship fall apart?
Responding to the phone call, Emily rushes to the meeting spot despite her boyfriend asking her not to. This is the first instance in the film where Luke shows some orthodox shade to his character, as the man immediately considers this call at night as an attempt by the colleague to get close to Emily. But the woman is able to convince him this time, and she leaves the apartment and arrives at the restaurant, only to find that the colleague is not there. Instead, it is the boss of the investment firm, Campbell, who meets with Emily, and his proposition rocks her world. Campbell states that Luke is not very appreciated as an employee, and instead, it is Emily who is being considered as the next portfolio manager. Emily obviously accepts the offer, but she is also not very convinced about how her boyfriend will take the news. Upon her return, Luke questions her about what had happened, and his first reaction after hearing the news is indeed quite revealing of his mental state.
It is essentially this unexpected promotion for Emily, which her boyfriend Luke was hoping to get, that drives the two away from each other, ruining their relationship. Luke had been serving at the firm for quite some time, and after hearing about the office gossip about his promotion, he started to believe that he had already been offered the role. The confidence with which Luke talks about how the promotion is going to change his and Emily’s lives together, even before he has officially received the promotion, reveals much about the man’s character. Throughout the entirety of Fair Play, Luke comes off as an extremely self-centered person who does not really consider anyone around him.
This characteristic of his, unfortunately, comes off with Emily as well, as he never considers that she could get the promotion as well. Even though the two seem to have worked at the same office for the same period of time, the possibility of his girlfriend being competent enough to receive promotions is not something Luke thinks of. When Emily shares the news, his face reveals his shock and almost disbelief, but he also hides these emotions through his words, which are all congratulatory. He also directly stresses how he is not jealous or saddened by the woman’s achievement, and this again makes him seem extremely ingenuine. Emily takes notice of this as well, as well as of the gradual change in her boyfriend’s nature in the following days. She is caring enough to ask him about whatever is troubling him, but Luke does not open up.
Getting a sense of what has been going on in Luke’s mind, Emily promises to help him out by getting the next big promotion. She then also tries her best to convince Campbell of Luke’s hard work and intelligence with regard to predictions, but her suggestion is almost immediately shot down by the boss. Luke did not have a very good record in the last few quarters, and his investments had made the company lose money, because of which Campbell is unwilling to put faith in the man. Back at home, the boyfriend starts acting more and more distant from Emily, especially with regard to their passionate lovemaking sessions, and he does not seem interested in such acts anymore. Emily tries her best to cheer him up and help his situation, but the man simply is not open to her anymore.
Luke also starts reading books by his favorite business mentor at this time, in an effort to prepare himself for his best efforts at the office. Initially, it seems like the man’s hurt ego and confidence are being boosted and trained to be put to use again in a positive manner by reading books and gaining knowledge. However, it soon becomes clear that Luke is still subconsciously too hurt by Emily’s promotion and is looking for ways to look down upon her. One such instance arrives when he suddenly tells Emily that she should present herself with more power and clothe herself in a certain way at the office. According to him, Emily’s current appearance and attitude make her appear like a “cupcake”, or a weak and adjusting person, and so everyone would be out there to take advantage of her in every professional situation.
Gradually, Luke keeps making statements and assumptions like these, which really make him seem like the most dedicated student of an extremely sexist and somewhat misogynist teacher. In fact, later on in the film, when Emily mistakenly throws out the notes that Luke had been taking from his favorite author’s business books, the man gets livid and throws an absolute fit. Deterred by the lack of romantic enthusiasm in her boyfriend anymore, Emily starts going out with her colleagues, who are the seniors in the company. She gets drunk and overspends at a club after earning a huge commission at work, and the next day, Luke overhears the colleagues talking about all this. The man believes that his girlfriend might even be cheating on him, and he suspects that is how she got the promotion in the first place.
It is not like Luke is exceptionally brilliant in his professional role either, and despite all of Emily’s best efforts, the man keeps failing at the chances he gets. Emily convinces everyone else at the firm to place bets on a company that Luke was predicting to succeed, only so that the man’s reputation at the office will get better. However, Luke’s assumptions turn out to be completely wrong, and the company again loses large amounts of money because of the wrong decision. Emily, once again, manages to recover the money through some other investments, but she understandably starts to lose confidence in her boyfriend’s professional attributes. As Fair Play progresses, Luke gets more and more problematic, calling his girlfriend names and then demanding that she talk to Campbell for his promotion. When Emily asks for an apology first, Luke dismisses her as if he had done nothing wrong.
Do Emily and Luke get back together in the end?
As Emily’s earlier efforts had not worked one bit, Luke decided to try his luck with Campbell by himself. When another portfolio manager is fired from the office, Luke goes to the boss and directly pleads with him to give him a chance and make him the new PM. In an extremely ignorant manner, he feels that Campbell would pay heed to him if he groveled at his feet, metaphorically, and so Luke literally bows down in front of his boss for the role. This obviously does not work, though, as Campbell dismisses Luke, leading to him completely losing his mental balance.
After being away from Emily for a couple of days, the man suddenly appears at the office in a disheveled and drunk state, creating a scene at the place. He reveals to everyone how Emily had been sleeping with him for the past two years, despite it being against the rules, and then quits the job after insulting Campbell as well. In an even more shocking turn, Luke actually shows up at the engagement party organized by Emily’s parents after this incident, despite their relationship being completely over by now. At this party, the two characters have their worst confrontation, with Luke spewing out the dirtiest allegations he can come up with.
Luke says that Emily must have gotten the promotion by getting intimate with Campbell, and she embodies all the toxic men in the world who suggestively smirk at how women have it so easy at the workplace. After this public scene, the couple have a confrontation in private as well, and it is to be mentioned that the escalations in Fair Play genuinely hold the capability to shock. As Emily seems to make one last frantic effort to save their relationship by getting intimate, Luke literally forces himself upon her, going on even when she tells him to stop. As can be guessed, of course, Luke does not even consider this act as rape, and he tries to pass it on as drunk lovemaking later on.
It is also not like Luke is the only toxic and abusive male presence in Emily’s life and surroundings. Fair Play keeps it real by showing the misogynistic nature of the corporate world as well. When Emily had a slip-up at her job, and her decisions led to the company losing money, Campbell did not hesitate or flinch even once to call her a “dumb bitch”. Similarly, earlier, one of her superiors also mentioned how he had been too strict on her only so that she would be better at her job and, therefore, excel at it. In a sense, the film does tell the story of the exploitative and competitive corporate world in modern times, with the couple at its center.
Emily and Luke’s relationship seems to have forever been lopsided, and it was only the man who was supposed to excel in life and profession. The moment these expectations are shattered, the relationship starts to break down. It can also be debated that Campbell and the company indeed promoted Emily because she is a woman and is, therefore, expected to be more docile than a male employee. Thus, Emily has to face the brunt of sexism both in her personal and professional lives. All of this drives the woman beyond a threshold of mental stability as well, as she loses control over right and wrong in the end.
During Fair Play‘s ending, Emily returns home to find Luke with his bags packed, as he is going to San Francisco to start his own business. Instead of any apology to the woman, Luke is rather boastful about this new development in his life, and it seems like he has come only to brag about how better he is without Emily. This enrages Emily, and she finally picks up a knife and slashes a few cuts on the detestable man’s body, threatening to cause more pain if he does not apologize for his actions. Cornered and vulnerable, Luke now breaks down and apologizes to Emily, even asking her to take him back into her life. However, Emily is completely done with him, and she insists that Luke wipe his own blood off the floor of her apartment before leaving the place. Fair Play ends with Emily dropping the knife on the floor with a sigh, suggesting that even though she is flustered by these sudden and unexpected actions, she is definitely satisfied after finally standing up to the toxic nature of her ex-boyfriend.