SXSW 2016 Review: Operator is HER meets Ruby Sparks
Operator tells the story of a married couple with two different outlooks on life. Joe (Martin Starr) is an introvert that spends most of his day obsessing over data while working on creating a realistic voice operator for Total Body Care. Emily (Mae Whitman) is a charismatic social butterfly working as a concierge at a high-end hotel while looking to break into theater scene.
One afternoon, Joe and his team meet with Roger (Retta), the owner of Total Body Care. Roger is unhappy with the current software and informs Joe and his team that they have a week to turn it around before they walk as clients. As Joe begins to panic, he calls Emily for comfort. As they continue to talk, Joe realizes that her voice is incredibly soothing and reassuring. This is when Joe decides that Emily should be the new voice of this operator software.
I could go on and on about the plot but I don’t want to give anything about this film away. Operator is one of those rare films that will shock audiences by how powerfully moving and relevant the story is. This is a film about two people with very different personalities and how personal interest, work, and technology can impact your own life as well as the lives of others around you. I think given the current obsession with technology and living in a world where people are constantly staring into their cell phones there is no better time than now to debut a film like Operator.
The best way to describe Operator is by saying it’s a combination of Her and Ruby Sparks but with its own unique style and voice. Operator explores so much in its short 91-minute runtime. It is one of the most beautiful and honest looks at a marriage that I have seen on-screen in quite sometime. Its shows how two people who are very different can truly love and connect with one another but also showing how differences in personalities can take a toll on emotions.
The writing and cast is what makes Operator the emotional powerhouse that it is. I have loved Mae Whitman ever since Arrested Development but this is hands-down her best performance to date. The amount and range of emotion that she shows as Emily is incredible. This role demonstrates that Whitman is such an underrated and talented actress that has undeniable star quality. The scenes where Emily is performing and she unleashes her frustrations about Joe is honestly some of the most emotionally driven moments captured on camera in the past few years.
Martin Starr is equally as amazing as Joe. He fits this role perfectly and get lost in the material. He plays the analytical data driven type so incredibly well. It’s hard to believe while watching him in this role that he started off as a comedic actor. He’s that damn good. Joe has a character is such a complicated one. On one hand, the man is clearly a genius but he also lacks social skills and is relies very heavily on Emily as his support system.
The supporting cast members are just as great. Nat Faxon plays Joe’s boss Gregg and he brings a level of humor to this really deep story. Faxon always works well as a supporting character and his role in Operator is no different. The standout among the supporting cast, however, has to go to Christine Lahti as Joe’s mother Beth. Her character at first comes off as the nagging mother type but as the story progresses; we learn there is more to her story than what was initially shown. The scenes between Lahti and Starr are great but its one scene in particular between Lahti and Whitman that serves as one truly powerful moment.
Sharon Greene and Logan Kibens wrote such an incredible story that feels extremely personal and real. While I don’t think everyone is going to connect with this film those who do will be really touched by the story. This is not a cut and dry story but instead a really in-depth look at life, love, and different personalities. This is a film that I look forward to revisiting because I am sure there are multiple things I missed on the first viewing.
All in all, Operator is one of the best films of 2016 and without a doubt, the best film to come out of SXSW this year. I absolutely adored this film and felt such a connection to these characters because I saw a little bit of myself in both of them. This isn’t a cookie cutter romance film but rather a hard and honest look at life and love in a world where technology has taken over our lives. I loved every moment of this film and can only hope that someone like A24 picks up this film and gives it the release it deserves.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Operator is a 9.5 out of 10.