Gary Ross' gender-swapped revamp of the slick heist franchise doesn't offer its female leads enough worthwhile things to do, despite the cast's pedigree.
Certain movies bring out a strong reaction in me not just because I happen to disagree with their values, but because they claim to represent my best interests. This is probably why Ocean’s 8 brought out such negativity in me.
I haven’t seen the rest of the Ocean’s movies, but I was excited for this one, even if it felt like the movie’s diverse cast was only being used to keep the money flowing in from a dead franchise. But what a cast: No matter what your demographic or fandom, there was an actress everyone could love. I mean, Sandra Bullock, Mindy Kaling, Cate Blanchett, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, and Sarah Paulson? There are not enough ways to say yes.
Then the actual movie ruined it all. At first, the missteps were small and easy to tolerate, beginning with Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, the sister to Danny Ocean (George Clooney, if that’s somehow unknown to anyone), talking her way into parole after being imprisoned for five years. Sure, her version of dressed down still included some pretty heavy, obvious makeup, but you can’t expect every movie to be realistic about appearances in such cases. Besides, it was also a fun callback to the franchise’s roots.
Once Bullock is released, she establishes her hustling skills by effortlessly conning her way into some free cosmetics and a stay in a ritzy hotel. She then quickly starts putting an all-female team together to pull off a seemingly impossible heist she’s dreamed up during her time in prison. How impossible? It involves stealing a $150 million necklace right off the neck of Anne Hathaway’s A-list actress at the Met Gala, while getting revenge on the ex who sent her to prison.
It’s an intriguing premise, and a chance to be a kind of meta commentary on Hathaway, a celebrity so many have loved to hate. But Ocean’s 8 squanders this opportunity by making her into a stereotype. Not only are she and those around her solely concerned with what she wears, her entire life revolves around her appearance. Practically every line she has revolves around her insecurity about her weight, her appearance, and her eating habits. She’s actually drawn into the con due to her jealousy over a younger actress. The movie does offer a twist to try and subvert this, but it falls flat, mainly because it doesn’t come close to erasing everything that came before.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, a mind-boggling feat with so much raw talent onscreen. There is nothing inherently anti-feminist with having a movie about women revolve around fashion. The “Ocean’s” movies have always been about the best brands, whether they were human or inanimate. But all those brands and celeb cameos come at the expense of the cast. So much effort is put into that them, the women themselves come up short. No one is developed beyond their function in the group. Even the relationship that got Bullock put away hardly registers. The movie barely establishes that they were a couple at all, let alone why they got together and fell apart in the first place. It makes it impossible to really get invested in Bullock’s mission of revenge.
“Ocean’s 8” also doesn’t seem to want to put its ladies in any real danger, even though Bullock is actually present at the heist and shows her face to the cameras. Really, in what world would she get away with this? At 110 minutes, it also drags on far too long, without any of the explosions or even suspense that would’ve made it interesting. But its predictability crosses into some racially problematic territory in how it treats the minority members of the cast. Rihanna’s hacker is constantly wearing a beanie and smoking weed, and when she takes a more active part in the heist, she poses as a janitor, Awkwafina as a waiter, and Mindy Kaling a dishwasher. There is never a moment when the movie allows us to forget its regressive expectations about women want, or what they should be. What it does is inadvertently make a very strong point about just how much diversity is wasted on a movie when it doesn’t treat its characters with the respect they deserve.
Ocean’s 8 sneaks its way past the security guards and into theaters June 8, 2018.