The trend of feminizing male franchises won’t fix the gender issues that plague cinema, and they shouldn’t be considered a mark of progress. Feminism isn’t solved because we remade Ocean’s 8 with women. However, there are opportunities to create truly engaging films with women in them and that’s the case with Ocean’s 8. The heist film has never had this much glamour, even when George Clooney and Brad Pitt were driving things. Director Gary Ross’ take on the material is an opulent affair that puts the spotlight on women’s marginalization yet also understand what draws women into movies. The film never comes down on women who like to mix their crimes with their jewels, and swathes the entire thing with polish, sass, humor, and fun.
Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has just been released from prison after serving a five year bid – being ratted out by her ex (Richard Armitage) in the process. Though she claims to want a “simple life” that involves “paying my bills,” Debbie has plans to pull off the biggest of big scores. Enlisting the help of eight very different women, the group embark on a plan to steal a $150 million dollar from the Met Gala.
The film possesses the same high on crime as its original feature, and I’m not talking about the 2001 feature. Ocean’s 8 holds many commonalities with the 1960 Frank Sinatra film, and even more closely the ’30s crime capers of the screwball era. Debbie Ocean is a woman who likes nice things, so almost from the minute she gets out she’s on the make, nailing down stays at a swanky hotel and getting out of Bergdorf’s with some merch. (You just know people will be trying these techniques in the real world.) Her robbing of the Met ball is the ultimate combination of glamour and villainy, with the tacit awareness that no one is truly being hurt – outside of the uber-rich.
Like the original series, much of the screentime is devoted to the assembling of the team and planning of the heist. Bullock’s Debbie provides legitimacy as the sister of deceased criminal mastermind, Danny Ocean. (Don’t expect a Clooney cameo.) It is the characters around Bullock’s Debbie that are more interesting, though Bullock’s cool levelheadedness keeps things on a solid foundation. Cate Blanchett’s Lou will remind you of all the reasons men and women love Blanchett. For starters, she owns Sarah Edwards’ stunning costumes, many of which couple Blanchett’s sexuality with androgyny in a way that’s perfect. In fact, give Edwards the Oscar nomination now because the clothes here are drop-dead gorgeous. The women’s outfits aside, the emphasis on gaudy Met dresses will have you running to Netflix to stream The First Monday in May.
Blanchett’s Lou also offers a glimpse into Debbie Ocean’s life, with the quickest of allusions made to a romance between the two women. It’s disheartening that in a movie meant to celebrate women, the same-sex relationship is silenced in favor of Debbie’s revenge against male ex, Claude Becker. Her and Armitage have zero chemistry, though the movie doesn’t give us any significant insight into their romantic relationship to begin with, so why not go for broke and cast another woman in the role? To do that, though, would take away from the film’s main motto – “a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored.” Anne Hathaway receives the second most amount of screentime, outside of Blanchett and Bullock, and it is a performance to see. Hathaway, infamously maligned as “difficult” throughout her career, leans into the term as megastar Daphne Kluger. Her breathy, boastful manner is the perfect illustration of the typical Hollywood movie star and a great send-up of what people have criticized Hathaway – with no proof, mind you – of being for years.
There are plenty of things to criticize within Ocean’s 8, but many of those criticisms actually enhance the enjoyable qualities the film possesses. The heist comes together impossibly quickly, and there’s a near breathless quality – both in the rapidity of character’s speeches to the movement and how seamlessly plans are struck – that makes the two-hour runtime sail. It also comes at the cost of character development. With eight women all competing for space, it’s unfortunate that stars like Mindy Kaling often feel like wallflowers with just a single scene to tell their life story. Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, and Rihanna are equally fun, but are more integrated into the group as a whole. We do learn Rihanna’s Nine-Ball has a little sister and Paulson must navigate motherhood with her heisting, but this movie might have benefited from a bit more balancing of characters.
The second and third acts are dominated by the Met Gala and Eigil Bryld’s cinematography is fetishistic about the clothes and jewels in a way you’d more commonly see in the gaze of a Sofia Coppola movie. The camera drinks in the “big, blingy, Liz Taylor jewels” on display, letting the audience hunger over them as much as the women at the center. The finale does run a taste too long as it introduces James Corden’s insurance agent, John Frazier. Depending on your tolerance for Corden in general it might be too much.
Ocean’s 8 won’t win any awards, short of Costume Design, but it is the picture-perfect summer movie. Bullock and company are a gaggle of fun and the film revels in fun and frivolity. If you’re looking for pure, unadulterated entertainment, Debbie Ocean is your gal!