So says Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of Danny Ocean (yes, that Danny Ocean, aka George Clooney), justifying why she’s assembled an all-female crew. Usually, she’d be right. But the ladies of Ocean’s 8 are having so much fun that they’re impossible to ignore.
The film wisely opens with Bullock, as charming and charismatic as ever, as she tries to convince her parole officer that if released, she’ll refrain from returning to crime. But clean living does not a good movie make, and she’s backing to stealing and lying before she’s even out the prison doors. Turns out, heists and cons are a family matter for the Oceans; she’s spent her five years of incarceration planning the perfect crime, one part robbery and one part revenge, and needs only to round up a dream team to make it happen.
That includes her best friend Lou, co-conspirator/ringleader/pantsuit-wearer extraordinaire (Cate Blanchett); Rose, a broke and eccentric fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter); Nine Ball, an aloof hacker (Rihanna); Tammy, a housewife and smuggler of home goods (Sarah Paulson); practical pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina); and long-suffering jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling). Debbie’s target is a particularly expensive (read: $150 million) Cartier diamond necklace, which will be let out of the vault for the first time in fifty years to adorn the neck of petulant it-actress Diane Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the annual Met Gala.
There’s nothing new or innovative about the structure or storytelling of Ocean’s 8; this movie is meant to fulfill the demands of a very specific genre-within-a-genre, that being not just a heist movie, but an Ocean’s heist movie. Director Gary Ross does his best to imitate the style and pacing of Soderbergh’s original, but never quite achieves the same percussive slickness. That being said, kudos to him for never straying too far from the formula; what we want is an impossibly complicated crime, carried out and explained to us by impossibly good-looking people, and that’s exactly what we get.
The cast, and to a lesser extent, the clothes they wear, are responsible for most of what makes this film so damn fun to watch. Bullock is the perfect choice to play Clooney’s sister; she’s got every bit as much charm and charisma, the same devil-may-care glint in her eye, and all the effortless smoothness to make us believe she could really pull this off. Blanchett (the Brad Pitt of this operation, if we’re going for exact parallels) is almost stressfully cool; she swaggers around like a young Steven Tyler, coiffed with a platinum shag and so many awesome pantsuits it’s enough to make me consider giving up dresses for life. For the most part, the characters’ highly-specialized skill-sets are their personalities, which is fine and even necessary for this type of movie, except that each of the titular eight prove to be so good in their own right that I found myself wanting more time with them all.
Bonham Carter is endearingly British and bumbling; Rihanna is that cool girl you were too afraid to talk to in college, with all the right stickers on her laptop; Awkwafina is sighing, eye-rolling, “Can you please keep up?” perfection; Mindy Kaling delivers nary a line without eliciting a laugh, and Sarah Paulson’s suburban mom who just happens to be really good at crime had me rooting for her own spin-off.
But the absolute standout is Hathaway, as the vapid, self-absorbed, but maybe more-self-aware-than-anyone-realizes starlet. Hathaway, who has been hated ever since her Oscar win / Oscar hosting gig, needed a comeback, and I can’t think of a better role than this to do it with. She plays a more annoying version of what everyone accuses her of being (largely, inauthentic and a bit too calculated), and in doing so, acknowledges her naysayers while proving that she’s not above making fun of herself. Her performance is part wink, part middle-finger, and I hope it will put to rest once and for all the (largely unfair and sexist) criticism of her personality.
This tone (cheeky confidence; self-awareness) permeates the film itself; there is just the right amount of nods to the original franchise without limiting the opportunities that come from having an all female cast. Saul (Carl Reiner), Reuben (Elliott Gould), and Yen (Shaobo Qin) all make appearances, which are unnecessary but fun, and Blanchett cracks chewing gum throughout, a sly homage to Pitt’s oral fixation (seriously, if you re-watch Ocean’s Eleven, he’s eating in almost every scene). And the writers wisely let the gender of their leads to inform the plot, proving that this all-female franchise reboot is more than just a gimmick.
Case in point: choosing the Met Gala as the setting. If glam men go to Vegas and rob casinos, then glam women go to balls and steal diamonds. (And it gives the costume designers the chance to dress not just Hathaway, but each of the leads, in stunning formal gowns, because of course their heist requires them to pose as attendees.) This setting also means there are numerous celebrity cameos, from Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian to one of the Hadid’s, as well as shots of the dozens of royal garments on display at the museum. The film is heaven for fashion lovers, as well as wish fulfillment for a certain kind of woman, in the same way that the other Oceans movies were for a certain kind of man. It’s sheer delight to watch how these women wield their femininity, taking advantage of the fact that they’re often immediately dismissed as a non-threat, simply because of their gender. (“Women™: Using Sexism to Our Advantage Since the Dawn of Time). They take all of the disparaging labels that so often get attached to women and use them at various points to help sell the con, be that bitchy, bossy, high-maintenance, simple, innocent, shallow, unmarried, or old.
Towards the end of the film, when one of the character’s motive for joining the crew is questioned, she quips, “I don’t know, I guess I just don’t have that many close female friends, and you guys looked like you’re having a lot of fun.” No one in the audience will disagree. Here’s to hoping that Ocean’s 8 will be followed closely by a 9 and 10.