Directed by Logan Kibens and co-written with Sharon Greene, Joe (Martin Starr), a programmer and obsessive self-quantifier and Emily (Mae Whitman), a budding comedy performer, are happily married until they decide to use one another in their work. Also starring: Nat Faxon, Cameron Esposito, Retta, Christine Lahti, Kate Cobb and Kris D. Lofton.
Technology has likely ruined many a relationship with its near unlimited capabilities but none quite like with Joe and Emily. Joe’s an anxious man who builds his life around statistics and probability while Emily is a caring, funny, generous woman and the rock that he depends on to get him through each day. The phrase opposites attract could not apply more here, it’s a relationship that makes no sense in theory but they’re perfect for each other in practice and so when Joe starts to become more obsessed with his “perfect” version of Emily, it’s tough to see their relationship begin to fall apart. This is in large part due to the performance of Mae Whitman, while her early moments may involve her being the polite, helpful and loyal wife, when her emotions are charged, she really hits it out of the park. The monologue in which she brings her relationship into her comedy, is a powerful moment and completely sets the tone for the journey that the film takes from then on. Of course that’s not to say that Martin Starr doesn’t give an equally great performance, he truly does, while he has quite a monotone voice, the characters he plays always have an underlying strong personality but Joe is so straightforward and logical, it’s a rare thing to see from Starr. His steadfast performance, much like Whitman’s, leads so perfectly into the second act of the film, letting the buttoned up Joe spiral to rock bottom and become an emotional mess. The two of them together make an unlikely but utterly convincing couple.
There’s also some fantastic support work in the form of Faxon, Esposito, Cobb and Retta. Faxon’s character is pretty much directly inside his wheelhouse, he isn’t given a great deal of variety with his roles but he is very dependable. Retta is always especially enjoyable when she breaks out the sharp tongue and she’s a hard to please client here with lots to say about it and while her performance is relatively brief, it makes an impression, also it’s just fun that everyone calls her ‘Roger’. Esposito almost feels like she’s playing a version of herself; strong willed, brutally honest and passionate about what she does.
The story isn’t entirely unheard of, various films have touched upon similar themes but it’s the more psychological details that make this really work; it’s the moments where Joe’s possessive qualities are revealed and the phrases that he steals from Emily to use in his work, from their private moments. The first half of the film is steady and things don’t start to really get interesting until the second half, it was necessary to build their story but it’s when the actors can get their teeth into the characters’ emotions that the writing hits its stride. The direction is solid, it’s never too still or overly simple, it perhaps doesn’t stray far from what you’d expect but it serves the story well.
Operator is a story about love, loyalty and forgiveness, it may involve a lot technology but it’s a very grounded story about the fact that a relationship will never be perfect and sometimes your limits will be tested. Granted, the way in which Joe tests Emily’s limits is a particularly creepy choice but its underlying concept of work and other interests taking you away from your partner, is extremely fundamental. It’s all hinged upon Whitman and Starr, and they’re a brilliant pair, it’s a highlight performance from Whitman, who often plays comedic characters but always brings it when things turn dramatic, so to see her get to show more of those talents is fantastic. It’s a clever story, that’s engaging and memorable.
Operator is available now on Amazon Prime so check it out for yourself!