The fire emoji was a common sight in tweets about the new corporate thriller “Fair Play,” which debuted Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
The movie follows two ambitious analysts at a cutthroat hedge fund, played by “Bridgerton’s” Phoebe Dynevor and “Solo’s” Alden Ehrenreich, who are also in a passionate and secret relationship. Several steamy scenes had some declaring the return of the erotic thriller.
Film historian Karina Longworth, whose podcast “You Must Remember This” recently delved into the erotic thriller moment of the 1980s, tweeted that “It does for the 2020s what ‘Fatal Attraction’ did for the late 80s.”
Chloe Domont, who wrote and directed the film, said she didn’t set out to make an erotic thriller, per se.
But “I did set out to make a thriller about gender power dynamics within a relationship that happens to be highly sexual,” Domont said. “I think the execution of that intention ended up flipping the erotic thriller genre on its head.”
Dynevor, in only her second film role, said that when she read Domont’s script, she saw herself and a lot of women she knows in her character, Emily, who seems to be the sole female at the company. She’s made even more aware of this when she gets promoted over Ehrenreich’s Luke.
“How she navigates work life in a very male-dominated industry and how she navigates her relationship and, you know, in many ways has to make herself smaller in order to make other people feel comfortable, I could relate to that,” Dynevor said.
Ehrenreich’s character comes from a more privileged background than Emily. He’s Ivy League-educated and expects a certain amount of success. But he also rolls his eyes at the casual misogyny of his co-workers and, at least at first, is supportive of Emily's ascent.
“I think he’s a little at remove from the rest of the office. He’s not quite in that boy’s club,” Ehrenreich said.
“One of the things that I really liked about the movie that I think sometimes is lacking from stories that take on issues like this is understanding the background and the system and the culture that all of that is taking place in,” he continued. “It’s not on one individual being a good person or a bad person. We’re all highly influenced by our environment and the ambitions that we have within that environment.”
The film has already stirred up a gender debate among those who have seen it as Domont makes sure to never go the cliche route with her characters. Audience sympathies may even shift between Luke and Emily from scene to scene. Dynevor was firmly on Emily’s side in reading the script and during filming, but when she watched the finished product, something changed.
“I kind of saw it more as him and her being a culprit of the society and a victim of the society, as opposed to, like anyone was a baddie or a goodie,” she said.
“Fair Play,” which is up for acquisition at the festival, is Domont’s directorial debut on the large screen. But high-finance drama is not new for her: She’s helmed episodes of Showtime’s “Billions” too.
“My interest in that world starts from, you know, ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Working Girl’ and like those movies,” Domont said. “But for me it’s the stakes. You have high stakes, you have drama.”
“You make money one day, you lose money the next day. ... You’re either living on a high high and you think you’re the (expletive), or the next day you think you're a worthless piece of (expletive),” Domont added. “What that does to a person, the fluctuating between those highs and lows, I relate to that in the film industry. ... I related to what that environment does to a person.”
Serbia plays New York in the film, which came together rather quickly, but the three key players made sure to carve out time to establish an authentic intimacy between Ehrenreich and Dynevor.
“We did a few days of rehearsal that I thought were really valuable, and it’s so rare you get to do that,” Ehrenreich said. “It makes such a huge, huge difference, especially in a movie like this, if two people have been together and so much of the movie is their relationship and the details of that.”
That involved improvisations of Emily’s first day at the office and the first time Luke tells her he loves her.
“It really felt like it really kind of locked something in,” Ehrenreich said. “That’s a magical thing that is worth fighting for on almost every movie, especially any movie that deals with, you know, a relationship of any kind.”
They also worked with an intimacy coordinator to stage the sex scenes.
“Chloe is such a phenomenal director and was always pushing us to go farther and farther, which was such a thrill as an actor,” Dynevor said. “And we both felt really safe to do so.”
The Sundance Film Festival runs through Jan. 29.