Film is reviewed from the 2016 SXSW Film Festival screening.
Joe (Martin Starr) and Emily (Mae Whitman) are two very different people who balance each other in their marriage. Joe is an engineer for a software company and sees things very black or white. His world is very analytically and data filled; he makes decisions based solely on the cold, hard facts. Joe is also all about regimen and keeping schedules and routines. He takes a 37-minute run every day, always turning around at the halfway point, a jetty that looks out over the water.
Emily is more a people person. In fact, she is amazing in her job as a hotel concierge. She can instantly put a customer at ease with her ability to find the problem and solve it as quickly as possible. She is also able to get the customer to instantly know that she is on their side and will do everything that she can to make it right. Where Joe has problems relating to people, Emily is someone who enjoys interacting with people. Emily doesn’t want to be a concierge for long, as she has just joined a comedy troupe who perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Somehow they make their marriage work, each playing off the other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Joe works for a company that is developing software/apps for a healthcare system called Welltrix. The product testing of the app is not going well, as callers are getting mad at the app’s personality, making them feel that the company doesn’t care about their well-being. Joe is given a week to come up with a better app, one that reflects the personality of someone who cares. Joe recalls how skillfully Emily does with frustrated customers and volunteers his wife to be voice and personality of the newly designed app. Emily agrees to it when Joe tells her if the app gets the go ahead, she will be compensated, well enough that she could quit her day job at the hotel. It’s a decision that they will soon regret as their marriage will be tested.
“Operator” is a film about trying to keep a relationship going strong in this day and age of electronic devices dominating our attention, multiple jobs and two very distinct personalities who don’t always mesh. This is a story about two people who are very different in their views of the world, but somehow find the time and the patience to listen and understand each other.
The on-screen chemistry between the two leads makes this film work so well. Mae Whitman gives an outstanding performance as the young woman who wants more than anything to be a performer. When her character is performing on stage with her comedy troupe, we see just how gifted she is as a comedic actress, but she is equally brilliant in her most vulnerable and tender scenes with Martin Starr, showing us how complicated her character is.
Martin Starr holds his own with Whitman, though because of his character’s personality, his performance is much more restrained. Starr has always specialized in playing strange characters in films, but this performance is probably one of his best, bringing depth and emotion to a character that has trouble letting his emotions get to the surface. We see the love and determination in his face as his character has to overcome his own shortcomings in order to keep his marriage going.
Nat Faxon as the needy boss of Joe, Christine Lahti, as Joe’s mom, and Cameron Esposito, as a pushy, opinionated cast member in Emily’s comedy troupe, all contribute significantly to the story line, making the film feel rich in character development and give it a great back story.
Sharon Greene and Logan Kibens (who also directed the film) have written a script that is highly inventive and a joy to watch, giving us real characters to follow and explore. The writers make us care about Emily and Joe, giving us a reason to root so hard for their success.
“Operator” is a film that has a lot to say about relationships and how technology can get in the way of two people trying to connect. It’s a movie that will make you put down that smart phone and spend some time with Joe and Emily as they find their way together in this busy and distracting world. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again