Film & Television

‘Ocean’s 8’: The Heist Genre Gets A Fabulous
(Female) Makeover

The Ocean of Ocean’s 8 is Danny’s younger sister Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock). As the film begins, we sit in on her parole hearing (after five years, eight months and twelve days in prison for fraud). Humbled, in her orange jumpsuit, she expresses her remorse and explains that she just wants to live a normal life. As she leaves prison (in the glittery gown in which she was arrested), she sets up a cigarette smuggling deal with one of the guards. She proceeds to steal cosmetics from Bergdorf’s (brilliantly) and scams a room at a posh New York hotel (also brilliantly). Suffice to it say, her idea of a normal life is a bit less legit than most of ours.

Ocean reconnects with an old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) who has been watering down vodka at a nightclub and convinces her to leave that small-time endeavor to take part in the greatest jewelry theft of the century. The plan is to steal a six-pound, $150 million Cartier diamond necklace at the annual Met Gala. Together, they assemble a colorful crew, including Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a soccer mom and fence; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweler; Nine Ball (Rihanna), “the best hacker on the East coast;” Constance (rapper Awkwafina), a pickpocket; and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a down-on-her-luck couture designer.

If you’re keeping score, that brings the team up to seven. Number eight is the unwitting and dim-witted starlet Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) who will be coaxed and cajoled into wearing the jewels to the event. Hathaway has often been the target of negative press and social media. You get the sense that she relished this role of a sexy, but self-absorbed and rather simple, celebrity. What fun she must have had!

Of course, the entire cast appears to be having fun. Bullock and Blanchett have great chemistry together; clearly Debbie and Lou have a rich, if sordid, history. Paulson, who’s still underrated, despite her Emmy and SAG Awards, is her usual excellent self, as is Kaling (no stranger to awards either). Bonham Carter is larger and frowsier than life (in a good way). And both Rihanna and Awkwafina absolutely hold their own with their more seasoned cast members. In fact, I wager we’ll see a lot more of them in movies to come.

The heist is, as it should be, complex, and it involves much technology. But it also involves stunning jewelry, designer gowns, and cameos from supermodel Heidi Klum and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. This is practically royal endorsement. (Interestingly, Wintour not only boycotted The Devil Wears Prada but reportedly threatened the careers of any designer who deigned to appear in it.) Other celebrity sightings include Dakota Fanning, Katie Holmes, and Kendall Jenner. James Cordon has a funny (although not altogether necessary) turn as an insurance investigator. And keep your eyes open for Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Mary Louise Wilson, and Elizabeth Ashley in small but significant roles. (Had Ocean’s 8 been made 50 years ago, they would have shone as part of the central crew.)

The film moves quickly and satisfies on many levels — not least of all aesthetically. Action trumps character development, but that’s par for this genre. There’s a revenge subplot that’s a bit of a snore. But my only real disappointment was the introduction of a late-in-the-game deus ex machina of sorts, a contortionist enlisted to exponentially increase the robbery’s pay dirt. A nod to an earlier Ocean’s, the character Yen should have been a woman.

At Women’s Voices for Change, we often ask ourselves if a movie passes the “Bechdel Test.” Named for writer/cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the test is meant to determine how female-friendly a movie (or any other entertainment) is. To pass, it has to include at least two women who have names, and who talk to each other about something other than a man. You might be surprised by how few major motion pictures pass the test.

Ocean’s 8, despite revisiting earlier material that was targeted more toward men than women, passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Yes, it tells us, it is possible for a group of smart and talented women to come together for a reason other than men.

This is progress.

It may involve criminal activity on an epic scale, but it’s still progress.

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  • Carol June 13, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Except, on a meta level, it does not pass the Bechdel test at all. After all, the very reason for its existence is that the Ocean series, and heist movies in general, is too male. This entire movie is a statement towards that point and very little else. If that’s progress, I’m not impressed.

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