SXSW Film Review: Operator (USA, 2016)

Operator is a film with a lot to say and a lot more on its mind. It’s a romantic drama that’s sure to resonate as a cautionary tale for SXSW audiences. The film examines the relationship between Joe (Martin Starr), a programmer working on cutting-edge digital customer service software and his wife Emily (Mae Whitman), a hotel concierge who moonlights in a local comedy troupe.

Without going into specifics, Operator is all about the emotional lines that get crossed when the two involve themselves in each-others work lives, and how that changes (and eventually threatens) the dynamics of their relationship. It’s a film that examines how our fixation on the positive qualities of a partner can cause us to lose sight of one another

Starkly intimate at times, Operator doesn’t shy away from examining the underside of Emily and Joe’s relationship. Starr does a fantastic job of bringing the brooding and mechanical Joe to life and Whitman is electric as the extroverted Emily.

Outside of its two main characters, the supporting cast in Operator is also pretty strong. Comedian Cameron Esposito does a great job as Emily’s comedy mentor and Christine Lahti makes an impression as Joe’s mother. There’s a even a fun appearance by Parks & Recreation alumni Retta.

Logan Kibens‘ direction is sharp, bouncing between Steeven Petitteville‘s crisp cinematography, claustrophic interiors and clever infographics tracking Joe’s mood throughout the film. It’s uplifted by Sage Lewis‘ soundtrack that swings with the script between pulsating joyousness and skittering intensity.

It’s easy to reduce Operator through comparisons to Her or BBC’s Black Mirror but it feels like very much it’s own film. It’s a little more-emotionally-grounded and all the more compelling for it.


Operator screened at SXSW. To find our more about the film, and to see if there are any more SXSW screenings, head here