How do you make a spinoff to the wildly successful reboot of Ocean’s 11 without making the whole thing feel completely played out? Get an all-star cast, keep the intrigue, fun, and style from the original, and make everything else uniquely female. From the target and methods employed throughout to the personnel and their reasons for joining the crew, Ocean’s 8 offers refreshingly feminine perspective to this well-worn franchise that despite any early stumbles scores big.
Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, sister to (maybe?) deceased conman Danny Ocean, is released from prison and has a plan when the movie starts. In the five or so years she’s spent in the slammer, she crafted the perfect heist: steal a $150 million necklace off the neck of an unsuspecting movie star at the Met Gala. But to take the rocks from the famous Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), she needs her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) and five others in on the scheme. Debbie and Lou collect their crew from a jewelry store (Mindy Kaling as Amita), suburbia (Sarah Paulsen as Tammy), a three-card Monty game in Central Park (Awkwafina as Constance), a failing fashion show (Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil), and…well, Rihanna’s Nine Ball simply appears on Lou’s couch and proceeds to steal just about every scene she’s in.
The performances are largely as you’d expect—in addition to Rihanna’s never-ending supply of charisma, the stacked cast serves the material well. Bullock and Blanchett easily carry much of the film, and Mindy Kaling got some of the best laughs. Her combination with frequent-scene partner Helena Bonham Carter was an unexpected joy, with HBC more or less playing the straight man, for once, and with an occasional Irish brogue. Meanwhile, Hathaway was delightful as their mark, vamping it up as an exaggerated version of the worst interpretation of her public persona. She shined in a role that let her clown on herself and her industry, insinuating that she knows how she comes off, and she’s cool enough to roll her eyes at it.
Ocean’s 8 is saturated in women’s perspectives in a million tiny ways. The very concept is something Danny Ocean would never come up with—how many straight men even know what the Met Gala is? From their first con, it’s clear that Debbie and Danny have different moves, though equally fun and ingenious. Throughout the heist itself, the women use gender and all its trappings to their advantage. As Debbie Ocean says, “I don’t want a him. Not for this job. A him gets noticed and a her gets ignored. And for once, I want to be ignored.” This culminates in a knowing sequence that shows Anne Hathaway’s character is a director, leading an all-female crew. The detail of the women cinematographer, boom operator and others is an unexpected wink toward the audience. Your attention is drawn toward the lead actress, a dead ringer for Hathaway, who tosses a nice zinger her way, but it’s there, clear as day. Even for a detail that half the audience won’t notice, Ocean’s 8 has a clear point-of-view.
Sometimes, however, the references may have been too insider-y, leaving some in the dark. An early joke was predicated on knowing that La Perla is a lingerie brand. It’s tough to know if the lack of reaction was due to the joke falling flat or there simply being too few people in the audience with the necessary knowledge to get it.
The cameos from the Y Chromosome Ocean’s crew are well done, a well: light touches that move the story along, bring back a welcome face, but don’t linger too long. Oh and that long-rumored and much-petitioned Matt Damon appearance? If it happened, he was in deep cover and not listed in the credits.
The other cameos come so fast and furious that the “special thanks” section of the movie is a mile long and even includes the Winkelvy of not-founding-Facebook fame. Everyone from Alexander McQueen and Zac Posen to Katie Holmes and Olivia Munn was there. Thankfully most are confined to the red carpet (every time Kim Kardashian came on screen the audience grumbled or laughed). Other red-carpet cameos blended more seamlessly, even when they had more screen time and lines, such as a welcome Heidi Klum.
The fashion was similarly toned down, largely reserved for the red carpet, and rightfully so. The biggest reaction was for Rihanna’s Met look. She and the rest of the crew, particularly Cate Blanchett, had more iconic looks throughout the movie than the other Gala guests. Still, the best cameo may have been the queen of the Met Gala herself, Anna Wintour. Like everything else in this movie, it comes with a head-shake and a wink, somehow making her expected appearance a fun surprise.
One troubling aspect to the self-aware humor, unfortunately, is Lou and Debbie’s relationship being teased as more throughout. This is a standard issue case of frustrating queer-baiting. They refer to each other as partner and flirt continuously, even feeding one another. While we see Debbie’s past relationship with a man, we see nothing from Lou, and get no confirmation that her jealousy of that man goes beyond the professional. Would it have killed them to show at least Lou’s sexuality directly?
The series of reveals was fun, putting all the odd pieces into place for several good twists. Unlike some heist movies, Ocean’s 8 continues until well after the heist itself. But the final scene was a bit of a letdown after all of that, leaving the flick feeling so unfinished that many in the audience expected an after-credits scene (there isn’t.)
Things started off a bit slow for this updated fourth installment of the Frank Sinatra-turned-George Clooney movies, but once it gets cooking there’s plenty of laughs, a wardrobe to die for, and enough twists and turns that at least one should surprise you.