Tag Archives: Martin Starr

Playing It Cool

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!

For now: Playing It Cool.

We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.

But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?

This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.

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Operator

Is this a poor man’s Her?

Sort of. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

MV5BMjExMTMyOTk3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTU4NzEzMDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_Joe (Martin Starr) is a programmer who’s probably on the spectrum and self-soothes with obsessively quantifying his every thought and feeling. His wife, Emily (Mae Whitman), is a hotel concierge with theatrical ambitions. They are a loving couple; she supports him, literally lays atop him light a human weighted blanket, and he applauds her every written word.

And then it all goes to hell.

Basically, he’s working on one of those phone operating systems where a customer calls in wanting to talk to a human but instead gets lost in a sea of options. His operating system is very sophisticated and intelligent, and like Alexa and Siri, she’ll need a voice, a calming but confident presence, and Joe figures: who better than his own wife and empathic helpmate, Emily?

Meanwhile, Emily has just joined a troupe of actors who put on teeny tiny plays that are achingly revelatory and personal. She has promised Joe not to use him as material, but he proves too tantalizing a subject.

So when their marriage hits the rocks, Joe starts dialing in to hear the operating system that sounds like his wife but never says no, and Emily starts flinging Joe’s most innermost personal shit across the stage just to see what sticks. It’s ugly, but it’s also fascinating.

Operator is funny, actually funny, and it’s anchored by two very bright performances by Starr and Whitman. But it’s also analytical and thoughtful and satirical. In short, it’s well-balanced and interesting, and if it doesn’t 100% work out in the end, it gets close enough. It will inevitably be compared to Her, but even if it’s a less attractive cousin, it’s still pretty good company to keep.