{SXSW} Operator Review: Martin Starr And Mae Whitman Connect In This Tech-Driven Romantic Comedy

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Many romantic comedies attempt to bring something new and fresh to the genre, but end up crashing and burning. It’s a different story with OPERATOR. The film shares has some of the beats of a typical romantic comedy, but it goes the unconventional route. And not to the point that it becomes obnoxiously quirky; rather, Operator possesses subtlety, wit and comedic restraint. The results are painful, heartfelt, and funny — as all relationships should be.

plays Joe, a man who lives by facts, figures, charts and data in order to calm his anxiety. His wife, Emily () is caring, nurturing, and a bit more of a free spirit. They balance each other out. When Joe hires her to provide a voice for an automated digital customer service platform at his work, he becomes obsessed with the project — so much that it begins to threaten their relationship.

Operator is a story about change and how not to freak out with it when it happens — especially when it comes to marriages. In the movie, Emily joins a theater group which interrupts the day-to-day routine that Joe is used to. He begins using the digital customer service project as a way to build an Emily that he is used to — an automated Emily that says what he wants, when he wants.

Let’s face it, this story is a little creepy. It’s like a messed up version of Her. But Starr does not make Joe that way. There’s dimension and heart Starr plays him with that veers more towards heartfelt and troubled rather than freaky and mentally unstable. For all of their marriage, it’s been Emily’s to be there for him, but now that she is finally finding something for herself, the tides have shifted and they are finally coming face to face with their codependency — a story that may be all too familiar to many.

Screenwriters Sharon Greene and Logan Kibens (who also directed the film) have created an endearing romantic comedy that dips its toe in the experimental waters just enough to add a distinct vision without losing the grounded quality necessary to achieve an emotional impact — and a lot of credit is due to the stellar performances by Starr and Whitman.

The two commit fully to their roles as a husband and wife who refuse to notice that there are problems in their marriage. Starr, who is mostly known for his role as the wise ass Gilfoyle on Silicon Valley, boards to the list of comedians, like Nick Kroll and Adam Scott, who can leverage comedic talents into solid dramatic performances. As for Whitman, her transition from being a empathetic caretaker-type to a wife who has finally let herself feel frustrated with her marriage is spectacular.

Operator is unique with its techie visuals, which is just added flair to a love story between a husband and wife who desperately need to re-evaluate their relationship. But in the end, it’s a story about what not to do when you don’t like the change happening in a relationship… and that is to not create a robo-voice version of your significant other.

Score:  4 out of 5

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watches too much and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.

Twitter: @dinoray

Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer
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