Because we are women and therefore simple creatures who are easily enticed by a movie with a cast of all women, the Jezebel staff had been hotly anticipating Ocean’s 8 for awhile. For months, we would walk past promotional posters (“Every Con Has Its Pros,” they read) and would think, Good tagline! We’d then proceed to spend the rest of our lives on a New York City train while thinking about Ocean’s 8.
So of course, 10 of us decided to spent a nice Tuesday night in the city watching this fancy heist film starring Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, Sandra Bullock, and Sarah Paulson. The fashion! The jewels! The crime! The cameos! The movie? It was fun and ultimately fine. Similar to our Fifty Shades endeavors, we wrote about our experience. Here it is.
It’s pretty fair to say that most of us would’ve bought a ticket to Ocean’s 8 just to watch the cast do stuff together on the big screen, regardless of how good the movie actually turned out to be. (Shout out to casting director Debra Zane!) Thankfully, Ocean’s 8 turned out to be pretty good, but it’s definitely aware of the fact that a lot of us want nothing more than to watch its stars be themselves, or at least a heightened version of who we imagine them to be.
There’s a meta element to everyone’s performances, save for Sarah Paulson’s Long Kiss Goodnight-style homemaker with a past, which makes sense given the fact that her public persona (a wonderful actress I want to see more of) doesn’t translate as well as those of the other women. It seems as if director Gary Ross rests on amplifying what we already like about the cast to fill in the gaps in character development that the film’s tight, under-two-hour runtime wouldn’t allow: Helena Bonham Carter’s fashion designer is an eccentric weirdo with a taste for the post-punk Victorian. Sandra Bullock’s heist leader is a no-nonsense boss lady with the driest of wits. Rihanna’s hacker is too cool to be there (and, for a few brief minutes towards the climax when she gets out of her hackerware, the hottest person onscreen slash ever). And Awkwafina as a hammy, scene-chewing pick pocket artist is…extremely Awkwafina!
Even the cast members who delve a little deeper into characterization use some element of their cult of personality to do so: Anne Hathaway’s cloying good girl actress definitely skewers the Anne we all loved to hate a few years ago, and Cate Blanchett’s lighter-flicking, Fosse-limbed Shane Who Won’t Leave You At The Altar seems tailormade to satisfy the CarolHive, to say nothing of the barely sub subtext between Blanchett and Bullock’s characters. This approach mostly works, except in the case of Mindy Kaling’s jewel appraiser, who wants nothing more than to move out of her mom’s place and live that romcom life. It’s true that she isn’t given that much to work with, but neither were Rihanna or Awkwafina, who both managed to create something dynamic by film’s end. Kaling’s character is definitely necessary to Ocean’s 8—it’s a movie about a jewel heist, after all. She just wasn’t that memorable.
I entered the theater nervous that there wouldn’t be enough seats for all of us in the row we had reserved, but to my great relief there were enough. I sat next to Megan. From my vantage point in the last row, I could see very little except the back of each seat, tops sturdy and curved like a gravestone. I stood for a moment. At the front of the theater, I could see a ponytail peeking out from the seat cushion. I knew that this person, like me, was ready to be empowered by crime. In terms of audience reaction, people laughed a lot at a Tinder reference. [Ed Note: It’s a scene in which Mindy Kaling’s character swipes through Tinder with guidance from Awkwafina.]
We all liked the jokes and visual gags premised on society’s underestimation and erasure of women. Harron and Julianne laughed very hard, I think in a disdainful way, at a Banksy joke. Speaking for myself as an audience member, I liked that Cate Blanchett dressed like Mick Jagger, but did not like it when Rihanna took advantage of Paul and his love of Wheaten Terriers. I wanted the movie to end after the heist was done, when everyone was wearing cool dresses and looking triumphant. Instead, James Corden showed up.
The script for Ocean’s 8 was fine, nothing to write home about. I’m speaking from a more literal perspective, as I took like three notes and really have very little to say here (Clover, can you guys please stop assigning me the script for these blogs, thank you so much?). Did I laugh uproariously? No. Did I cringe? Only a few times, like when James Corden yelled, “So you’re saying your company does nothing to prevent someone like BANKSY [from breaking into the museum]?” or when we learned, during a crime brainstorming session, that “Anna has to approve everything.” (You don’t say?)
I remember almost nothing Sandra Bullock said as Debbie Ocean, except it was all delivered very quickly with the tepid half-smile of a lady who loves to do crime. The script in this film was heroically and exactly just good enough to allow the film’s more exciting elements (the planning, the heist, Anne Hathaway’s acting as Daphne Kluger) to shine. [Ed. Note: The best line of this film, hands down, is the headline for this post, and it comes when Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is reading reviews of her fashion show.]
In my mind, the hallmarks of a good heist include but are not limited to: ingenuity, surprise, execution, and whether or not I feel any anxiety during the heist’s execution. I don’t know if this is what actually makes a good heist, because I lack the strategic planning and the poker face to pull one off myself. Working with these arbitrary rules, I have decided that the heist in Ocean’s 8 is a very good heist indeed.
Divulging the details of the heist will only ruin the actual experience of watching it, but here is the general outline: there are seven women who want to use Anne Hathaway cosplaying the worst version of herself to steal a big necklace from the Met Gala. There are many montages of preparing for the heist: buying special items, like Snapchat glasses that talk to a 3D printer, and many gowns. I felt much anxiety during the actual heist and its aftermath, which was another sign (for me) that it was a good one. Part of the thrill is wondering whether or not they’ll pull it off. But maybe the real hallmark of a good heist is the feeling of satisfaction on getting one over.
As you have likely read, the plot of Ocean’s 8 begins with a nod to Danny Ocean, aka George Clooney, who is fictionally dead, RIP, but his criminal spirit lives on in his sister Debbie Ocean, aka Sandra Bullock. She is him in this sequel (or rather, she’s her own woman), the master heist coordinator with a solid plan and a calm demeanor. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and itself a Rat Pack remake, Ocean’s Eleven was the ultimate ensemble heist film led by Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Julia Roberts. While Ocean’s Twelve took a dip in quality, Ocean’s Thirteen brought the ship back, from what I recall.
From the start, the Gary Ross-directed Ocean’s 8 swipes the template of the original (and I guess any caper film): there’s the presentation of the heist plan, the introduction of the players, the planning of said heist, a couple of hiccups along the way, an Anna Wintour cameo, poof, swipe, PUKE, and the heist is pulled off with a few wise cracks in between. It’s a fun, intended-to-be-dazzling adventure.
Here’s my gripe. Awkwafina plays a pick pocket artist, Mindy Kaling is a jewelry appraiser, and Helena Bonham Carter plays a fashion designer, which all works for getting the Met Gala job done. And perhaps I’m living too much in the past here, but what I loved about the original films was how each heist member’s specific talents were impressively executed. They somehow made a freaking contortionist acrobat (the Amazing Yen) part of the plan, had an explosives expert, mechanics, etc—and all that made for a fascinating heist. While the Ocean’s 8 version was indeed fun, I think they could’ve used a more oddball profession, someone whose singular skill would play well for the plan. The coolest job to me was (no bias) Rihanna’s hacker position and how it played into the real fact that privacy doesn’t exist. WATCH YOUR FOOTPRINT.
The fact that the acrobat from the original Ocean’s (played by Shaobo Qin) had to reemerge at the end of this movie seems to confirm that’s what was needed. It kinda sucks that ultimately they depended on a man to finish the job, but at least it was more like they were using him. In all, it’s hard to top the original. Ocean’s 8, while it got the job done, could’ve been much flyer.
She was amazing, and she deserved so much better. That’s basically my opinion on the movie in general, but no more so than Rihanna. If you’re going into Ocean’s 8 expecting a sequel to “mahalo, motherfucker,” you’ll be thoroughly disappointed. However if, like me, you are pleasantly buzzed on canned rosé by the time RiRi shows up, you’ll find yourself softly “whoo”-ing when she appears onscreen, along with everyone else in the theater.
Rihanna plays an unassuming stoner-hacker named Nine Ball, whose real name is revealed to be Leslie. This, the movie tells us, is her only flaw. Like everyone else, she does the crime without a hitch, but unlike everyone else, she is stuck in front of a computer monitor inside a (very bougie) halal truck throughout most of the heist. There are many unbelievable and absurd things in this movie, but Rihanna stuck in a halal truck during the Met Ball takes the cake. Even in this alternate world where Rihanna, Queen of the Met Ball, does not exist, I have a feeling that had she walked onto the red carpet, Anna Wintour would have whipped around and whispered, “Oh….oh, her. Who is she?”
When Rihanna does finally arrive at the ball, glammed-up in celeb disguise along with the rest of the team, she’s basically wearing a more subdued, red version of her “Wild Thoughts” outfit. Boring and not on theme?? She truly did immerse herself in this character. It’s a shame because, while the movie goes out of its way to spoof the public personas of several of its stars – Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter – it gives others, like Rihanna and Mindy Kaling, very little to do. Ri-Ri’s centerpiece of the movie is when she disguises herself as a janitor in the New York Times building. When everyone gets their $38 million and is fantasizing about what they’ll use it for, Nine Ball’s dream is to…open a billiards bar named Nine Ball’s. Still, on the slim chance that this bullshit leads to her starring in her own heist movie, it’ll all be worth it.
The uncomplicated Ocean’s 8, which I uncomplicatedly enjoyed, is all a-freakin’-bout signaling how empowering it is. There are basically no men in the first 10 minutes of the movie (other than a disembodied voice), and the men that do appear later are either ex- or potential boyfriends, uptight diamond protectors, or James Corden. Plus: these women know how to steal for themselves! Cate Blanchett has razored bangs! The song “Bossy” by Kelis plays for like one whole verse!
Within the script—which unfortunately focuses less on its perfect cast and more on executing a flawless heist—there are two moments when I bellowed an involuntary, guttural “YAS”: When Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean says why she wants an all-woman heist team (“A him gets noticed and a girl gets ignored. For once we want to be ignored”), and when she says the pseudo-thesis statement of the movie: “Somewhere out there is an 8-year-old girl lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal. Do this for her.”
The movie receives further empowerment points for allowing the women to fulfill their dreams with their earnings (Rihanna gets her own bar! Cate Blanchett gets to motorcycle down the PCH, but did we even know her character loves motorcycles! Awkwafina gets to join the co-op board!), and from Anne Hathaway’s divine line reading of, “Oh, look at you,” while staring in the mirror. Negative points for having the heist revolve around getting revenge on an ex-boyfriend. B+
In a movie that has eight leads, there’s not a lot of room for supporting characters. It feels like a stretch to call Dakota Fanning, for example, a supporting character because she appeared in maybe two scenes, essentially just playing herself (a celebrity named Penelope Stern). So I’ll focus this review on the few recurring characters whose presence actually moved the plot forward. There was Claude, Debbie Ocean’s former lover interest, James Corden, who plays insurance claims agent John Frazier, and a team of interchangeable white men who all work for Cartier and speak varying degrees of French.
Claude (Richard Armitage) is a tall, almost handsome con-man who is, I think, meant to seem alluring to beautiful, rich, women, but I found him very boring and frankly did not understand why any of these wealthy, accomplished women would be into him. Conversely, he wasn’t quite unlikeable enough, either—I wasn’t rooting for his downfall, I was really just ambivalent about our tall, two-drinks-in, kind-of-hot Claude. Then there was Frazier, and I am surprised to say that I liked Corden in this role and only thought about Carpool Karaoke once while watching him. In fact, I wish there was more of Corden earlier on to build tension. He and Debbie clearly have a history, so it’s jarring to meet him at the end when there’s really no time to establish a strong connection. At least, unlike dear Claude, Frazier has a personality.
Two Ocean’s 11 characters make quick cameos, just in case you somehow forgot that this film is part of the Ocean’s franchise; Rueben (Elliot Gould) shows up to dissuade Sandra Bullock’s character Debbie from her heist plan in the beginning, and the Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin) appears at a crucial moment to help the team out with his acrobatic skills. Dakota Fanning shows up for a hot second, which was maybe the most unexpected cameo out of the whole film. How is she these days? Everything good with her?
And we got a whole bunch of celebrity appearances in the Met Gala scenes; Kim Kardashian, Kylie and Kendall Jenner on the red carpet, Serena Williams, Common, Heidi Klum, Katie Holmes, Olivia Munn, Gigi Hadid in the bathroom line, and various other models who I do not know by name but might possibly follow on Instagram. My favorite cameo of the night, though, was the halal cart that doubled as remote operations center for Rihanna’s character Nine Ball. My least favorite sort-of-cameo was Banksy, because, what???
Look, I know a film series about a jewel heist is not humping for realism, but I fell out of my freaking seat when Anne Hathaway’s character, Daphne Kluger, applied HER OWN MAKEUP for the Met Gala. The idea that a famous actress who is the honorary celebrity host of fashion’s biggest night would be doing her own face in a robe right before someone plopped a $150 million necklace on her swan body is how you know that Ocean’s 8 was written and directed by a man. It’s simply not accurate, unbelievable, and contributes to the erasure of the hard work of makeup artists, who possess a noble craft that’s just as important to a red carpet than the fit of a gown. A deeply infuriating omission!
Otherwise, the costuming was aight. Hathaway, after doing her own lips (travesty!) in a Max Factor red, got to wear a demure hot pink gown with a long cape; the effect was quite deliberately Grace Kelly-esque—which it had to be, considering any Met Gala guest wearing a gauche diamond necklace with a dated drop-pendant design in 2018 is definitely going for retro, or for irony. Helena Bonham Carter, playing washed-up fashion designer Rose Weil, wears a giant bouquet of flowers atop her head, splitting the difference between Vivienne Westwood and Sarah Jessica Parker, and therefore realistic.
Sandra Bullock is entrusted with some extremely hideous sheer cut-out dresses, I guess meant to call back to Sopranos-style mob molls, but which are distracting. Cate Blanchett gets to wear pantsuits, though, which is only right, and Rihanna looks at home in a red taffeta gown that her character, Nine Ball, surprisingly does not accessorize with a crocheted tam in Rasta colors. We only get a glimpse of Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling in their Met Gala gowns, but we do get some screen time with Kim Kardashian, wordless, spray-tanned, sculpted, and wearing what appears to be the pelt of a llama.
The fashion was fine.