I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Oh, thank goodness. I was dreading discovering that Ocean’s Eight was yet another pointless retread, a cheap knockoff devoid of spark or life, nothing more than cinematic chum soon to be tossed into the Netflix mix to tempt us to log in on a Friday night. But it’s not! It’s fun, breezy, occasionally witty, features some wonderfully subtle comic performances from a great cast, and is perfectly suitable light diversion from the shitshow that is the world at the moment.
Okay, yes, this movie is a retread. It is a knockoff. It can’t hold a candle to Soderbergh’s 2001 Ocean’s Eleven; it hasn’t got the insouciant verve. But then again, what can and what does? And let us also remember that that movie, glorious as it would have been at any moment in time, arrived in the wake of enormous disaster that had stunned us, and offered us cheery, inconsequential-in-the-best-way distraction. I’m not saying our love for that movie is unfair, but I do suspect that our memories of seeing it that first time will always be colored by what a blessed relief it was.
Am I praising with faint damns? Possibly. Am I letting myself be unreasonably distracted in another moment of enormous disaster? Could be. But Ocean’s Eight has something that the other Ocean’s films did not have: the freshness of an all-female primary cast. (For the millionth goddamn time: this shouldn’t be enough to make a movie feel fresh. But it still is.) And it has something else that even other movies with all-women casts — especially those that come out of Hollywood and are intended for mainstream entertainment — mostly do not know how to cope with: Ocean’s Eight is very much about women and things that many women like — fashion, celebs, jewelry, revenge against men who’ve wronged us — without ever demeaning those women, infantilizing them, or ridiculing girly interests. (It does quite the opposite, in fact.) We’ve seen the likes of that crap too often recently: looking at you, I Feel Pretty and Book Club. (“Book clubs are the worst!” one of the women exclaims here, by way of saying that being part of a smart, stylish crime gang is a helluva lot more fun to have with your girlfriends. But that’s surely a coincidence.)
Con artist Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock: Our Brand Is Crisis, Minions) and her shady pal Lou (Cate Blanchett: Thor: Ragnarok, Truth) embark on a plan to snatch $150 million worth of antique diamonds off the neck of a starlet at the annual glitzy Met Gala in New York. As a heist caper, Eight is, it’s true, nowhere near as deliciously tricksy as what Debbie’s brother Danny and his gang pulled off in Las Vegas. (We get a snippet of news about Danny’s whereabouts as the film opens, and I was instantly like, Nah, he scammed that… moments before Debbie voices the same doubts.) But what Eight might lack in plot twistiness it more than makes up for in overt commentary about how the low regard in which our society holds women will work to their benefit; it becomes meta commentary on Hollywood’s lack of respect for women, too. In order to pull off their robbery, Debbie’s team will assume the sorts of invisible helper roles that women perform every day that keep the world running, and that make events like the Met Gala happen, from administrative interns to kitchen staff. These are the women who “get ignored,”
Lou Debbie says to justify why she doesn’t want any men on the team, “and we want to get ignored.” Ocean’s Eight makes a sly, bitter joke — and an act of cultural revenge — out of how these ingenious women make themselves very, very rich by taking on “approved” roles, with their own, and contrary, agenda also at work, one that no one would guess at because, hey, women can’t be criminal masterminds, can they?
To see so many brilliant, competent female characters, played by such a delightful cast having a ball, none of whom are chasing men or romance, all in one movie, is such joy! There’s Amita (Mindy Kaling: The Night Before, Inside Out), a jeweler, who will deal with the diamonds themselves. There’s Tammy (Sarah Paulson: The Post, Carol), a successful fence, who will help them move the score. Constance (Awkwafina: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) is master sleight-of-hand, which makes her a great pickpocket and snatch-thief. “Nine Ball” (Rihanna: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Home) is their hacker extraordinaire. Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter [Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, Alice Through the Looking Glass], very much sending herself up, delectably) is the fashion designer who will dress the unwitting eighth member of the gang, diva actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway: Colossal, The Intern). No spoilers, but what screenwriters Gary Ross, who also directed (as he did Free State of Jones and The Hunger Games), and Olivia Milch do with Daphne’s character plays with assumption about famous women, especially women famous for being beautiful in public, to marvelous satiric effect. And Hathaway’s performance is an absolute gem; if Bonham Carter is sending herself up, Hathaway launches her own public persona into cunning comedic orbit. (I feel like the fact that Blanchett gets to use her own Australian accent onscreen for the first time in a long time, at least in a big movie, is a criticism of how we don’t let women be themselves onscreen.)
I mean, gosh, there’s even a really funny — and insightful — line, which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling, when Debbie is talking about her former relationship with asshole socialite art dealer Claude Becker (a sensationally hideous Richard Armitage: Pilgrimage, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), and why he deserves to be set up as their fall guy for the heist. (They maneuver it so that he’s Daphne’s date for the Met Gala.) She’s explaining what she saw in him, despite the fact that he’s a spectacular jerk, and it’s a terrific illustration of a modern woman’s expectations about what a man needs to bring to a romance nowadays.
There are plot holes here, but I can forgive them. My one big complaint about Ocean’s Eight, one I can’t find a way around: the presence of James Corden (Peter Rabbit, Trolls) as the insurance investigator brought in after the theft of the necklace is discovered. This character should have been played by another badass woman. But maybe I’m just getting greedy. Ocean’s Eight did that to me. If we can get all these fabulous women onscreen, why can’t we get one more? Why can’t get movies like this one all the time… just like men get?