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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Ocean’s Eight movie review: revenge of the women

Ocean's Eight green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Breezy fun that sticks a shiv into Hollywood’s — and the larger culture’s — disdain for women. Wonderfully subtle comic performances from a great cast having a ball make for a perfectly suitable light diversion from the world right now.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women; love the cast
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female coscreenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

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 dreaming, or are there multiple women of color in this movie?”

“Am I dreaming, or are there multiple women of color in this movie?”

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.)

Unlike many other movies about women, this one does not demean or infantilize us, nor does it ridicule girly interests.

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?

Never underestimate a woman who is a globally recognized professional in distracting you with her beauty.

Never underestimate a woman who is a globally recognized professional in distracting you with her beauty.

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.)

Anne Hathaway’s performance is an absolute gem. She’s not just sending herself up: she launches her public persona into cunning comedic orbit.

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?

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

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Ocean’s Eight (2018) | directed by Gary Ross
US/Can release: Jun 08 2018
UK/Ire release: Jun 18 2018

MPAA: rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
BBFC: rated 12A (infrequent strong language, drug misuse, sex references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Matt Clayton

    I thought it was fun. I thought half the ensemble (Kaling, Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina) didn’t have much to do in comparison to Bullock, Blanchett, Hathaway, and Carter though.

    Armitage is indeed delightfully skeezy as Debbie’s ex-boyfriend, but James Corden’s character could’ve been written out or as you said, played by another A-list female star like Viola Davis or Jessica Chastain.

  • Anna

    I liked that the characters weren’t given stereotypical parts based on their race. It was cool that the street-smart pickpocket was Asian and the brilliant hacker was black and Caribbean (as was her little sister with the clever scientific knowledge). Also, it was cool they included older women, including Sandra Bullock as the main character. Not that I’m saying she’s ancient, but you know how Hollywood usually is. I wish they’d included a queer character though.

  • Jonas Pelham

    “Breezy fun that sticks a shiv into Hollywood’s — and the larger culture’s — disdain for women.” So the movie is bombing because it is just a feminist rant against men using a male orientated men’s movie poorly redone with women

  • Danielm80
  • Tonio Kruger

    Yes, Daniel, but those are facts in that article you linked to. And facts are so 20th century. ;-)

    But seriously, folks…

    It’s interesting to see a link on that page to yet another article proclaiming Solo to be a box office failure. No doubt because of all those feminists involved in its production….

  • Jonas Pelham

    LOL, who ever said that women are box office poison? You are burning a strawman. At best you point to some examples of old series that were original mostly male being redone with women so the wamen feel included

  • Bluejay

    What you claimed was that the movie bombed, which is false. It’s doing very well.

  • good movie

  • Some readers are interpreting Debbie and Lou’s relationship as a romantic one. It’s not overt, though (and could also be interpreted as intense but platonic friendship), and it could have been.

  • Everything you say here is wrong, including “and” and “the,” but I’m curious about your attitude. Are you suggesting that disdain for women is a natural, inherent trait in men, and a part of our culture that should NOT be criticized?

  • Tonio Kruger

    You could say the same thing about Sarah Paulson’s character. After all, we never actually see her spouse and the actress is a lesbian in real life…

    Of course, I could be wrong but in a world where Hermione is seen by people of color as one of their own and similar claims have been made about Elsa by both lesbians and asexuals, anything is possible.

  • Jonas Pelham

    So even my quote of yours is wrong?
    Your so called “disdain of women” is just your paranoid childish feminist brain reacting to the lukewarm at best response to a feminized remake of a lame derivative movie
    My disdain for you personally is not a subset of your fever brained, male hating trope of your imaginary “disdain of women” that you claim I possess. It’s because of your colossal ego that you appointed yourself spokesman and arbiter of all things female, so any criticism of you as a person is now an assault on all womanhood.
    Finally, it is pretty lame that you have to attack posters in your site’s comment section. Are you that petty and insecure? The ONLY reason why IMDB gives your lame reviews near top billings is because of your sex, not acumen.

  • Jonas Pelham

    See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhLp77g6DdY


  • Jonas Pelham

    If you indeed really do represent all women, then you make it so easy to despise them.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    A whiny, droning neckbeard on YouTube agrees with you? I guess that’s QED. You can go home now.

  • Jonas Pelham

    He makes a more cogent argument than this rabid feminist fanatic and her coterie of cucks. Besides, it was a schlocky over priced tepid remake of a many time re-made film. There is nothing original or noteworthy about this pallid Hollywood product. If it didn’t have this fake feminist angle, NO ONE would give a fig about this lame flick

  • The point isn’t that it’s *possible* that a character might be gay. The point is that this shouldn’t be left to fan fiction or the viewer’s head canon. We need to see lots more characters onscreen who are *explicitly* gay or lesbian (or trans, or fluid, or asexual) in stories that aren’t about their sexuality. Like how most cis hetero characters onscreen are.

  • in a world where Hermione is seen by people of color as one of their own

    Umm, you know that a WOC is playing Hermione in the stage play (in both the West End and on Broadway), right? I mean, there’s no “claiming” going on.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Actually I didn’t hear about that. But then I doubt that play got the same PR on both sides of the Atlantic than the Emma Watson version did.

    And it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t J.K. Rowling’s original notion to have Hermione seen as a person of color. It was the notion of one of her fans – a notion I find more sympathetic than Rowling’s — and, for that matter, Hollywood’s — original approach.

  • Bluejay

    The point isn’t that it’s *possible* that a character might be gay. The point is that this shouldn’t be left to fan fiction or the viewer’s head canon.

    Yeah, that’s what disappointed me when I read the script for the Harry Potter play. Rowling has no problem nodding to gay representation offscreen or off the page, but she and her team sure have trouble committing it to text. (Dumbledore, whom Rowling has acknowledged is gay, apparently won’t “explicitly” be gay in the new Fantastic Beasts film either.)

  • Petra Persson

    This movie should be perfect as commercial for plastic surgery, all the women looks so “natural”

  • Petra Persson

    Really nice movie with one big issue. With so many great female actresses why put the worst one in the lead role (Sandra Bullock is sooo horribly bad).

  • Your opinion is not fact. Many people — including me — really like Bullock and find her talented.

  • Tonio Kruger

    For what it’s worth, I kinda wish they’d included a Latina character. But if I had to pick the biggest issue I had with the film, that wouldn’t be it.

  • Tonio Kruger

    We’ve seen the likes of that crap too often recently: looking at you, I Feel Pretty and Book Club.

    Heh. My mother actually saw Book Club and liked it better than Ocean’s 8. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a generational thing.

    As for me, I liked Ocean’s 8 well enough but I did find it a bit surreal to watch a film that encouraged me to root for a scam artist after I had spent the week working at a retail job where half my female co-workers spent much of their workdays kvetching about the various scam artists they had to deal with.

    Heh. Irony.

  • These characters are not scam artists. They’re thieves. Nonviolent thieves who aren’t stealing from anyone who can’t afford it. It’s not like they’re bilking little old ladies out of their grocery money.

    Hollywood has a very long tradition of asking us to root for clever, nonviolent criminals, and it usually works. Do you have trouble rooting for them when they are male?

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