T here are a lot of things one could invoke when introducing Ocean’s 8, not the least of which might be the current social climate surrounding the release. And while there are plenty of think pieces to be written which might have legitimate insights, I don’t personally feel inclined to pull out a lot of #MeToo-centric analyses. For the most part, this film does not contain any adversity for the characters to struggle through, but rather stands outside of contemporary turmoil as more of a beacon— an ideal. In other words, Ocean’s 8 eschews the requisites of films steeped in social change and skips ahead to after the change has already been made, bringing the sought-after prize of diverse women holding equal power and positions to men right to us, already there, with no need to be earned. It’s just a given.
Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the estranged sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean. She’s erudite, charming, and mostly serious but a little smarmy. Bullock rings the bell of her predecessor, but due to her distinct, ironic voice and manner, she comes up with a character entirely original and cool while neatly filling her role. And the rest of the women, whether they take on a mantle or not, are what completes the picture and provides strength. Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter play the group which Sandra Bullock recruits to steal a 150 million dollar diamond necklace from the wealthy celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Each has a specialty which they contribute to the operation, in addition to their own unique brand of charm, but more importantly, they all have distinct relationships with one another. Some argue the Academy awards should have a prize for casting. Ocean’s 8 probably makes the best case for that. Chemistry between this many main characters seldom occurs so seamlessly.
Refreshingly, each character forms a positive bond with the others. Many female ensemble films tend to include hostility or competition between at least two parties, but here we have a real team of competent, strong women who flaunt their abilities while still appreciating others’. That isn’t to say inner conflict only appears in women-lead ensemble films. Many times, teamwork films contain a rift at or around the midpoint which acts as the last major conflict. So in keeping the conflicts external (as most heist films should), the film is able to come up with original roadblocks, hurdles, and suspenseful set pieces that serve to further strengthen each of the characters abilities as well as their synergy.
Supplementing this satisfying casting, the comedy writing excels. Of course, Mindy Kaling and James Corden bring their chops, but Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are standouts as well. You get the same wry, sardonic humor as you get from actors in the original franchise but also new styles that work especially well with a feminine delivery, specifically Hathaway’s uncanny ability to portray an air-headed, privileged woman-child that I can only assume she’s seen all too much of in her life.
Ocean’s 8 does a good job of kickstarting this year’s string of summer blockbusters. I hope it’s a sign and not an anomaly. | Nic Champion