Are straight cis men OK?
This is a question that’s haunted generation after generation, in one way or another. It usually arises in the wake of major wars or progressive political and cultural movements. And it always finds its way into art, as creatives probe the dark recesses of rattled, insecure men who feel as though their dominance is threatened by the gains of others.
As evidenced by so many events and trend pieces of the last few years, we are presently in such a moment. Fair Play, the moody, unflinching feature debut of writer-director Chloe Domont, meets us here in titillating fashion: It’s about Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), a conventionally attractive and career-minded heterosexual pair who embodies a surface-level version of the “power couple.” They’re young, horny for each other, and poised to make a ton of money working in finance. As the movie begins, they steal away from a wedding reception to have sex in a harshly lit bathroom, resulting in a laughable mishap and an impromptu marriage proposal in front of a toilet, after the engagement ring accidentally tumbles out of Luke’s pocket.
So this is love.
But then one of them gets a promotion over the other at their cutthroat hedge fund – go ahead and guess which one … why yes, you’re absolutely correct, it’s Emily – and things get awkward.
Compounding this already-tenuous dynamic is the very nature of their romantic relationship. Emily and Luke’s romance is a secret, and now he’s both her secret lover and her direct report. (Outside of work, it’s unclear if they have any semblance of a social life; as everything from Boiler Room to Industry has suggested, when not doing copious amounts of coke and hitting up strip clubs with colleagues, people in finance barely exist outside of shorting stocks and wooing big-time investors at all hours of the day.)
Luke, whether he’s willing to admit it or not, begins a descent into crisis mode.
Fair Play is visually moody and stylish, with most scenes taking place indoors and in dark spaces with warm, golden-toned lighting (upscale bars, restaurants) or, in contrast, the depressing dull-gray of their austere office. To its benefit, the movie isn’t as high-concept as some of its cinematic contemporaries in exploring the dangers of the wounded male ego; it’s not rendered metaphorically through Gothic body horror, idyllic mid-century Americana, or an iconic children’s toy. Instead, Domont crafts it as a blunt, withering workplace/domestic melodrama hybrid, an all-too-real depiction of the curdling of a relationship contaminated by intense ambition and jealousy.
On paper and in practice, Emily is a top-tier broker, an overachieving Harvard grad whose keen instincts about the market impress her gruff boss, Campbell, played gamely by Eddie Marsan. Luke, on the other hand, is merely coasting by. Nevertheless, Emily believes in Luke and is convinced she can help secure him the next promotion that arises; in her mind, they’re in this together. That’s not quite true.
The situation here is deliberately gendered, but Fair Play still manages subtle characterizations. Luke isn’t a cartoonish misogynist. Ehrenreich convincingly depicts him as someone caught grappling with the experience of having two distinct and wholly relatable reactions at the same time: happiness for someone else and disappointment for one’s self. In this case, that tension manifests in escalating digs and jabs. He begins to retreat from Emily outside of the office and becomes obsessed with the hacky self-help musings of a motivational speaker. (His confidence is zapped, but he maintains a stranglehold on his sense of entitlement – the gall.) He’s snippier; the sex dries up.
Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix
Emily isn’t simply a victim of patriarchy, though; Dynevor plays her as steely and strategic in that ruthless male-dominated work environment, willing to let sexism and verbal harassment from her colleagues wash over her as she plots to ascend the ranks. At home, it’s another story, where she confronts Luke’s insecurities head-on, pushing back against his increasingly bitter demeanor. In a way, their story reverberates like a corporate world A Star Is Born, except the rising female powerhouse refuses to let her spiraling partner bring her down, even as she fights desperately to try and save their relationship.
Luke’s resentment builds believably to a nightmarish crescendo that has striking consequences for their relationship and their positions at the firm – it’s both a completely familiar and utterly astonishing outcome to behold, one that’s played out in relationships in some form of the extreme since, well, forever. Of course, it feels especially acute now. The draw of Fair Play lies in the alignment of that inevitability with Domont’s dynamic storytelling vision. It more than meets this umpteenth era of male “crisis.”
Spotify to cut 17% of staff in the latest round of tech layoffs
Toru Yamanaka/AFP via Getty Images
Toru Yamanaka/AFP via Getty Images
The music streaming giant Spotify has announced it’s cutting 17% of its workforce in a dramatic move aimed at slashing costs.
In a memo addressed to staff, CEO Daniel Ek said it was critical that the company “rightsize” its financial situation after hiring too many people in 2020 and 2021, when capital was cheaper.
“The Spotify of tomorrow must be defined by being relentlessly resourceful in the ways we operate, innovate, and tackle problems,” Ek wrote. “This kind of resourcefulness transcends the basic definition — it’s about preparing for our next phase, where being lean is not just an option but a necessity.”
This latest round of cuts — the third this year — equates to about 1,500 jobs, according to a CNBC source that said the Swedish company currently employs about 9,000 people across more than 40 global office locations.
Across the tech industry, tens of thousands of positions have been cut in the last year as a pandemic-era boon continues to fade. According to the tech job tracker layoffs.fyi, more than 250,000 tech workers have been laid off since the start of the year.
Still, the size of the Spotify cuts may feel “surprisingly large” for the moment, Ek wrote.
The company posted $34 million in operating income during its third-quarter earnings call, its first quarterly profit since 2021. Lower personnel costs, driven by two smaller rounds of cuts, was one of the factors cited for saving costs.
The company cut 6% of its workforce, about 600 employees, in January. It laid off another 2% of staff, roughly 200 roles, in June.
At the same time, Spotify raised prices on its subscription plans and set a lofty goal to reach a billion users by 2023. It currently has over 570 million of them — a little less than double the number of listeners the platform attracted in 2020.
The company has also shared its vision to go beyond music and expand in audiobooks and podcasting, a space that’s feeling a financial strain and steep competition for both listeners and advertisers.
Since 2019, Spotify has spent close to a billion dollars buying up podcasting studios, signing exclusive deals with celebrity hosts and, most recently, investing in generative AI for ad creation.
But all this investment has come with high-profile headaches — and still failed to turn a profit. The company’s layoffs in June were specifically focused on downsizing its podcast division.
As of 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Spotify’s shares were up about 5% in premarket trading.
Departing employees will be offered approximately five months of severance pay plus healthcare coverage, vacation pay, immigration support and two months’ worth of career-search assistance, according to Ek’s statement.
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Longtime ‘Fresh Air’ contributor Dave Davies signs off (sort of)
After 22 years of interviews, longtime Fresh Air contributor and fill-in host Dave Davies is cutting back on his workload.
For years Davies has contributed at least one interview a week to Fresh Air, and oftentimes more — especially when the topics concern sports, investigative journalism or history. Davies is always thinking about the experience of the listener.
“If … something isn’t clear because the guest is using shorthand for something or it’s just not quite working, you have to intervene in some way to make sure the audience stays with it,” he says. “The audience is always in your mind.”
A native of Lubbock, Texas, Davies grew up in Corpus Christi and moved to Philadelphia in 1975, where he initially worked as a taxi driver and a welder. In 1982, he found his way to the WHYY newsroom, covering local politics and government. He left in 1986 for stints at KYW Newsradio and the Philadelphia Daily News, but returned to public radio doing free-lance gigs, including Fresh Air interviews, beginning in 2001.
Though Davies occasionally hears a Philly accent creep into his speech, you’re unlikely to find a trace of Texas in his voice — either on-air or in real life.
“I remember in junior high and high school being aware that the people on television, like the newscasters, spoke this standard English,” Davies says. “And I kind of I just decided to do that.”
Davies is not signing off completely from WHYY. You’ll still hear him interviewing guests on Fresh Air — just less frequently. And, of course, he’ll continue to bring his A-game to the listeners.
“The one thing that I’ve done from the beginning is to really prepare very, very thoroughly for every interview because there’s a standard here, right?” he says. “The thorough preparation is really, I think, in some ways one of the things that defines the show.”
Click on the audio link above to hear clips of some of Davies’ most compelling interviews, including conversations with Frank Calabrese Jr. (2011); novelist Kate Christensen (2013); biographer Robert Caro (2019); and sports announcer Joe Buck (2017).
Heidi Saman and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast, with assistance from Roberta Shorrock. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.
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