‘Ocean’s 8’ Made Me Want to Commit Crimes and Kiss Cate Blanchett

Hey everybody! I’m back to review another female ensemble film, this time with double the women and half the horniness. It’s time to talk about Ocean’s 8, a movie that sits at the intersection of popular culture, fashion, scams and digestible feminism. If you are familiar with the Ocean’s movies of yore, you will be familiar with this one: An unthinkably bold heist is concocted by one crazy dreamer, an attractive team is assembled, the heist is executed, there’s a surprise, and everyone walks off into the sunset. Sorry for the spoiler, but is that really a spoiler?

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the recently released criminal sister of the inexplicably dead Danny Ocean (Tequila impresario George Clooney). His death receives little explanation but is referenced frequently enough to feel like a set-up — I half-expected Clooney to play Anna Wintour in the Met Gala scene. Cate Blanchett is her second-in-command of sorts, who lives in a vampire mansion in Red Hook and drives a jeep. Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway and Awkwafina round out the rest of the cast. There are some cameos, some men of varying degrees of importance and Elliot Gould in what is perhaps the best outfit of the entire movie. (Won’t spoil that one.)

Anne Hathaway plays Daphne Kluger, a self-absorbed megastar. Hathaway is fun to watch and it’s the clear the role is satirical and that she knows this is what we think of her. It’s a little bit obvious and a tiny bit vengeful, much like the movie itself. The rest of the cast also leans into the archetypes of their public personas or most-often played characters: Rihanna is cool and intimidating; Mindy Kaling is boy crazy and easily distracted but comes through in a pinch; Helena Bonham Carter does her whole thing. It’s fun!

Mathematically, the movie does better inclusivity-wise than 2001’s Ocean’s 11. Three people of color out of eight is technically better than three out of 11. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a mainstream blockbuster without just a whiff of unnecessary othering: When Awkwafina’s “Constance” and Mindy Kaling’s “Amita” are first introduced, Sandra and Cate’s characters are seen getting off the subway in what are supposed to be read as “ethnic” enclaves (look at all the bright clothing they’re walking through!) outside of or on the southern tip of Manhattan. There are a few others moments, but eventually the characters fall into “heist movie” archetypes more than anything else.

The movie hinges on the first Monday in May, a.k.a. the Met Gala, and the treatment of the event is pretty delightful. There are some good Anna bits, the theme, Historical Fashion of European Royalty, is so on the nose (if a little unsexy) I thought it was real for a hot second, and the fake red carpet lends itself to some fun cameos (our own Harling Ross was missing but I assume she was just cut for time). In a movie where millions of dollars of jewels are stolen and none of the characters pause at any point to think that maybe their time would be better spent riding off into the sunset with Cate Blanchett on her motorcycle (more on that later), the most absurd part of the film comes when Sarah Paulson’s character sounds the alarm to a Vogue staffer that it’s a week or so before the big event and there isn’t a plan in place to feed the vegans/gluten free/South Beach dieters of the Met Gala. In that moment, my disbelief was no longer suspended, it was plunged brutally to the ground.

The wardrobe is a delight, especially Helena Bonham Carter’s, and it does some of the work of slotting the characters into their team roles. As the requisite “hacker,” Rihanna doesn’t say much throughout the film, but it is a true testament to her once-in-a-generation charisma that a scene of her typing and muttering is great cinema. And the theater audience audibly gasped when she came out in her Met Gala look. (Nothing compares to her real Met Gala looks, but she did look stunning.) Anne Hathaway’s costumes are all impeccably tailored, alluding to her character’s wealth and investment in her looks. Sarah Paulson wore some nice sweaters for her suburban mom-with-a-secret character. Awkwafina wears a bunch of unassuming beanies that match her occasional skateboards. Cate Blanchett is dressed like a fancy Shane McCutcheon or a shabby Harry Styles for much of the movie, which makes it hard not to read her character as queer and also to focus on the movie and not the long list of crimes you would happily let her talk you into committing.

Everything that made the Ocean’s 11 and 12 movies thrilling is there: quick editing, sly jokes, revenge and constant snacking. There isn’t an Andy Garcia-style “bad guy” in this version, but James Corden shows up to wrap things up and is perfectly charming. HE DOES NOT SING, though, which feels like a crucial piece of information for those figuring out whether to see this or not.

The movie is more topical than it probably expected itself to be, what with the-white-girl-scamming-rich-New-Yorkers story making the well-deserved rounds a week before its premiere. And there is a glaring missed opportunity to reference the great celebrities-smoking-in-the-Met-Gala incident of 2017, but it’s a kicky little movie nonetheless. Does it fall in line with Man Repeller’s June theme of Feel Good? I’d say it does. See it if you have Movie Pass (you should get Movie Pass!) or have always said you’d prefer a more high-octane version of Carol. Skip it if you hated the Ocean’s 11 or are looking for something that goes beyond formulaic.  In the meantime, I’ll be here, brushing off my undergrad theater degree in case anyone needs a good liar for a heist.

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