Conservative influencer Jordan Peterson is never mentioned in the excellent new Netflix film Fair Play. But he is the influence for a character who teaches some very unhelpful lessons.
Fair Play stars Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton) and Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) as Emily and Luke, coworkers at a take-no-prisoners hedge fund who secretly date because their workplace forbids interoffice relationships. Their relationship is idyllic, until a promotion gradually — calamitously — shifts the dynamic.
A few Fair Play spoilers follow, so be forewarned.
As Luke finds himself under more and more pressure at work, he starts taking an online self-help course by a business guru whose advice turns out to be very bad. The guru urges his fans to be bold and to demand opportunities and respect.
But the problem, for Luke, is that he isn’t performing. He wants rewards without earning them. And that’s partly because he takes bad advice from an online guru he never even meets in person.
“I based him off of Jordan Peterson, actually,” Fair Play writer-director Chloe Domont said of the online guru. “Because I feel like he speaks to that kind of audience — men that feel insecure in their skin or wherever they’re at in life. And he tries to channel… more of an aggressive alpha-male energy to get men to feel more confident.
“Luke would never go down that road if he wasn’t feeling so low, and so insecure in that moment,” Domont added. “But because he does, he’s looking for anything to take him out of that feeling that feels so uncomfortable.”
We spoke to Domont about every aspect of making Fair Play — from screenwriting to development to production to post to distribution — for the latest issue of MovieMaker Magazine, The Complete Guide to Moviemaking 2023, now on newsstands. Fair Play, which earned rapturous reviews in its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, was picked up by Netflix for roughly $20 million. The films producers include Rian Johnson and Domont, who was previously best known for her work on TV shows include Billions, Ballers, Clarice and Star Trek: Discovery .
Jordan Peterson and Fair Play
Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor, has more than 7 million YouTube followers and draws both support and criticism for his critiques of so-called political correctness, his climate-change skepticism, and his unwillingness to accept trans people’s identities. He has described himself not as conservative, but as a “classic British liberal” or “traditionalist,” and also supports universal healthcare, wealth redistribition, and drug decriminalization. A 2018 New York Times profile called him “He is “the stately looking, pedigreed voice for a group of culture warriors who are working diligently to undermine mainstream and liberal efforts to promote equality.”
While Fair Play doesn’t directly call out Peterson — again, he isn’t named — it does paint a withering portrait of a man, Luke, who freaks out when his female significant other proves herself better at her job than he is at is.
One of the most intriguing parts of the film is that it doesn’t take a both-sides approach — money is the only measure of success at their business, and Emily brings in more than Luke. Emily is is more successful than Luke, and there isn’t any argument about it.
Domont went to great lengths, however, not to stack the deck against Luke. He is sympathetic and charming at the beginning of the film, and Fair Play is so effective because his transformation is so believable. As he struggles more and more, instead of digging in and doing the literal and figurative work, he looks for quick-hit solutions.
Domont spent a lot of time during both the screenwriting and editing stages of the film to calibrate Luke’s character.
“What I found really fascinating with this film, more than anything else I’ve worked on, is that if you dial a little bit more towards Luke’s favor in one scene — more in his favor in terms of looks or comments or whatever — it completely changes the way you think about her for the next 20 minutes. And if you dial a little bit to the right toward [Emily], it completely changes the way you think about him for the next 20 minutes,” she said.
Fair Play is now streaming on Netflix.
Main image: Alden Ehrenreich as Luke in Fair Play, courtesy of Netflix.