When Sandra Bullock’s character, Debbie Ocean, gets out of prison in the new Ocean’s 8 movie, her hair looks great. Granted, once released on parole and out in the real world, Debbie (sister to Danny, of the eponymous Ocean’s Eleven) wears her hair pin-straight—but when she’s pleading with parole officers for a chance to live “the simple life,” she’s got kinda beachy, effortlessly cool waves that would make you pause as you thumb through Instagram. It’s impressive, given that she’s been in prison for five years. But that’s Debbie—calm, collected, and beautiful even under the most harrowing circumstances.
This premise describes her physical appearance, but it also applies to the rest of her women ne’er-do-wells who band together under Debbie’s supervision to pull off one of the biggest jewel heists in history—and it’s exactly this glossy, airbrushed, easy-as-pie quality that makes Ocean’s 8 such a frustrating, if occasionally fun, watch.
If you’ve never seen Ocean’s Eleven, here’s a brief introduction: Danny Ocean is a con man, and in the original movie, he and his partner-in-crime, Rusty (played by Brad Pitt) wrangle together a team of delightfully deceitful men, each skilled in his own way, to rob the vaults from the Bellagio hotel’s casino and two others in Las Vegas in the same night. They succeed, and in the two sequels, the gang grows by one and they set their sights on even more heists. [MINOR PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]
Debbie’s scheme against her ex feels a little more down-to-earth and at the same time, less compelling
If you are familiar with the 2001 film, you’ll immediately notice similarities in Ocean’s 8—which is considered a spin-off of the original trilogy. (All of the Ocean’s Eleven movies are directed by Steven Soderbergh; Gary Ross directs 8). Both open with an Ocean sibling leaving prison on parole; Debbie’s righthand woman Lou, played by Cate Blanchett, is an obvious callback to Rusty; junk food or street food is a recurring motif; and much of the comedy stems from lightning-fast one-liners exchanged between whip-smart, idiosyncratic characters. There’s also a goodnatured air of verisimilitude to 8: the film’s universe is peppered with real-life celebrities and such institutions as the Met Gala and Vogue.
And like Danny, Debbie has an ulterior motive for orchestrating the theft of a Cartier diamond necklace worth more than $150 million. It’s not the money—although that certainly motivates the other women (Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, and Sarah Paulson) to join her. Debbie is—sort of—out to settle the score against her ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (played by Richard Armitage), the artist (and another con man) whom she fell in love with and who two-timed her after a job gone wrong.It’s an interesting contrast to Danny, who wove personal gain so deeply into his plan to rob the Bellagio that even Rusty didn’t notice at first: His ex-wife, Tess—played by Julia Roberts—is dating the owner of the hotel, and Danny plans to win her back. Showing, perhaps, the depths of his self-centeredness and the limits of his grand vision in those films, Danny risks the lives of everyone for an outcome that will only benefit him. Debbie’s scheme against her ex feels a little more down-to-earth and at the same time, less compelling—if she can screw over her ex, great! But ever cool-headed, she isn’t dead-set on revenge, either.
Like the original, Ocean’s 8 is full of beautiful people pulling off high-stakes, seemingly impossible stunts. And maybe because its relying on the same formula as the original, it’s a little boring. Debbie and her comrades are TOO GOOD at doing crimes. Part of the reason they get away with all their lying and sneaking and nefarious activities is that they are, to some extent, hiding in the plain sight of being loud, annoying—or difficult, or clueless—women.
The gender gap for recognition is alive and well in the Ocean’s spin-off universe, and Debbie exploits it to her full advantage.
If anyone ever suspects them of wrongdoing, they are usually able to quickly recover and wave away criticism, framing their insane requests as just one woman’s wacky opinion or way of being. In the world of Ocean’s 8, it’s hard to argue with women, it seems; receptionists, security staff, museum curators, and more nod silently and generally go along with whatever Debbie’s team says. It helps that, unlike in the original, there’s no antagonist to the titular Ocean; Debbie’s ex ruined her life once, but once the story begins, at the moment of her release from prison, he has little influence one way or another in her world.
At one point in the movie, when Lou suggests a man for the team, Debbie retorts back something like, “I don’t want a him, I want a her. Because a him gets attention, and for once, I need us to go unnoticed.” The gender gap for recognition is alive and well in the Ocean’s spin-off universe, and Debbie exploits it to her full advantage.
The women in Ocean’s 8 are fucking talented: Rihanna plays a clever hacker by the name of Nine Ball; Mindy Kaling plays an expert jeweler; Awkwfina is a hilarious thief; and Sarah Paulson’s character gets away with lying better than anyone else in the movie. The moments when I doubt them are few and far between. I think that’s what the movie’s missing—just a little drama, a little interpersonal turmoil, a little self-sabotage, or just any credible threat to their enterprise to raise the stakes. The movie boasts a star-studded cast, and each does a great job in her role. But it’s all a little too easy. They’re perfect, and their plan is perfect, and I wish I had to root for them harder.
At a press conference for the film, Blanchett quipped that their roles would inspire girls into lives of crime. (She was, pretty obviously, joking, in response to a reporter who asked what the effect of the movie’s strong female—but criminal!—leads would be.) But it wouldn’t surprise me if they did—the movie makes the life of a con artist look too glamorous, cool, and above all, far too simple.
Ocean’s 8 is in theaters June 8.