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A young inspiring actress is married to someone who is a tech genius who has anxiety issues and is maybe on the autism spectrum. She does her best to support him, but sometimes the effort doesn’t go both ways.
Review (with Spoilers)
Though I have probably seen very few of Mae Whitman’s movies or TV show appearances, I’m very much a fan. There is just something to her that has that real girl next door vibe. Not the Hollywood version of the idea, but the actual girl you grew up with, hanged out with damn near every day, and be it romantic or not, pretty much they became someone you couldn’t imagine life without. Something she brings to each character, that’s I’ve seen, and with that said let’s talk about Operator.
Characters & Story
Emily (Mae Whitman)
Emily is a 20 something-year-old young woman who is very much in love. She loves her husband Joe, his kooky mother, as well as this 30 plays in 60 minutes troupe she joined. Thanks to Joe by the way. But alongside the things she loves, she has this one thing she hates. That is working at this hotel in which she is the concierge. A job she is good at, to an almost ridiculous extent, and it is the calming nature of her voice, her ability to soothe Joe even when she isn’t there, that leads him to choose her for the voice of his automated healthcare system AI.
A software program which, as Emily evolves and becomes more comfortable in her writing and acting, seems like more of a burden on her relationship than her means of supporting Joe’s company.
Joe (Martin Starr)
His mother drinked while she was pregnant, his father left and rarely visited, he has panic attacks when things are stressful and is very likely on the autism spectrum. Despite all this, and what comes with it, Emily loves him anyway. So, to the best of his abilities, Joe tried to do for her what she does for him. However, as an analytical programmer, a quite talented one at that, Joe is about data and probability. So random chance increasingly becomes something he doesn’t want included in his life. So between the AI version of Emily and this increasingly unpredictable one, which one is better is hard for him to choose.
Sometimes, people just need to know somebody is in charge.
It is hard to not get so much out of Whitman’s performance as Emily. There is this consistent pursuit of understanding Joe and even trying to work with her mother in law Beth (Christine Lahti) and there is this authenticity to it. She isn’t played, or written as, someone who is long suffering with these two. Even without us getting to see them date and just getting a blurb of how she and Joe met, you somehow fully understand she loves these two and through that finds the strength to deal with Joe’s panic attacks and can yell and focus her mother in law’s mind so she can get her life-saving medicine.
And while this may not be an Oscar-worthy performance, I think it proves that if Whitman was given the right script and excellent co-stars, her name would be getting read off the teleprompter. For, to me, she is what elevates this movie into something worth checking out and everyone else, they are simply adequate.
While Emily is written, in a way, to be more than simply Joe’s love interest, considering how we meet Joe’s mom, learn about his dad’s abandonment and how that affected him, it makes you wonder what Emily’s background is? This especially comes into play as you see how supportive she is of Joe and it makes you wonder if she is emulating her parents and their relationship together or with her, or trying to do as they didn’t. But the real issue perhaps is that the movie makes it seem Emily’s life and past begins with her meeting Joe and everything else is pretty much left for you to assume or guess.
On The Fence
The issue with Joe is that, on top of the film using your usual romantic film trajectory, it places all of the burden on Joe for why things go wrong. Emily is made out to be perfect, almost blameless in their marital issues, and she almost seems like a saint at times. Meanwhile, Joe spirals into madness as Emily doesn’t even change. She just has less time to fully dedicate herself to him.
Relating this to Short Term 12, in that film Brie Larson plays someone with depression and her love interest in that movie is supportive as can be, but not to Emily like proportions. He stumbles, fails as her rock, and even at times makes it seem too much for one person to handle. To me, Emily needed to have those moments, to vent to friends, and not seemingly just be Joe’s wife. For even with the acting troupe thing, we don’t get to see her bond and try to navigate her feelings with her peers. She just does one play explaining it and that’s it. Much less, when she leaves Joe, we aren’t sure where she goes and that adds onto the issue of never really getting to know Emily for everything is about Joe.
It’s the imbalance that screws things up. That and your usual romantic film trajectory. If Joe didn’t have to bear the weight of him and Emily having marital issues this film could have been better. Also, if we got to understand more what Emily got out of the relationship, as well as who she was before him, maybe we could understand why she invested and stuck with Joe. Unfortunately, those elements are missing. So it leaves Emily as a figure who, on top of not having any flaws, seems to be with this man for reasons you sometimes can’t fathom.