“Ocean’s 8,” opening in theaters this weekend, is the highly anticipated, all-female take on the “Ocean’s 11” series from the early aughts — which in turn was inspired by the 1960s era Rat Pack film of the same name. But while the film is ostensibly about the attempts of Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) to pull off the largest jewel heist of the 21st century with seven accomplices and $20,000, the plot is really just window dressing for an unapologetically feminist statement: a Hollywood vanity film by and for women.
The original “Ocean’s 11” starred Frank Sinatra and his famous Rat Pack in their prime. Much like “Ocean’s 8,” the plot of film was largely irrelevant. The real reason the movie was made, and the real reason people went to see it, was the audacity of putting all of Sinatra’s pals together over the course of a two-hour film. It was a man’s film, made by and for men, full of shots of them parading around Vegas dressed to the nines and surrounded by beautiful women.
The remake, which starred George Clooney and Brad Pitt, was an even more meta vanity project. Clooney clearly wanted an excuse to play the Sinatra of his day. The film, and the two sequels that followed, are little more than snapshots of the era’s biggest stars, with him as the ringleader.
“Ocean’s 8” is the same thing, but for women. Bullock is the grand dame of the film; a woman who has spent 20 years on Hollywood’s A-list and has the Oscar to show for it. Her right-hand woman is Cate Blanchett, a highly decorated actress in her own right, who achieved the rare feat of being nominated for playing the same historical character in two different films. They are joined by a who’s who of film A-listers, from Helena Bonham Carter to Anne Hathaway to Sarah Paulson, as well as A-listers from other corners of the entertainment industry, like Rihanna and Mindy Kaling.
Like the original “Ocean’s 11,” it doesn’t matter who any of these women are playing — or what their characters are called, to be honest — because the characters themselves are unimportant. The name of the actress Anne Hathaway plays doesn’t matter, she’s really playing an over-the-top version of Anne Hathaway. Bonham Carter is an over-the-top version of the kooky artist everyone assumes she is in real life. Mindy Kaling might as well be her same character from “The Mindy Project,” except now she’s a jeweler instead of a doctor, and so on.
Like the original “Ocean’s 11,” it doesn’t matter who any of these women are playing — or what their characters are called, to be honest.
The point of the film is also not the thrill of the heist, which is fun, but not really thrilling. (The only actual moment of tension is when the quarry, a Cartier necklace, is brought forth from the vault for the first time, and Bonham-Carter must look at it with computerized glasses while the digital imprinting uploads. That little “upload” bar has never moved to 100 percent so slowly.) The real point of the film is to sit back and enjoying watching these ladies dress up and attend the ultimate female fantasy of the 2010s: Anna Wintour’s Met Gala, a red carpet so exclusive, E! used to be forbidden from covering it.
“Have the confidence of the mediocre white man” was a phrase once said to me at a rather impressionable age. It felt devastatingly correct at the time, and indeed still does. Living in a patriarchal society means watching perfectly mediocre men expect to fail upwards in life. Women, on the other hand, must always be the Hermiones of any set. They cannot be average Lavender Browns to survive; they must be utter overachievers just to be considered equal.
This is true in the world of movies as well. A women’s movie must be outstanding to get attention — especially if it’s funny. It cannot be a “Dante’s Peak” style film; it must be “Bridesmaids” or “Steel Magnolias.” One of the most striking things about the female “Ghostbusters” reboot was that the entire (living) original cast guest starred in it, as if they needed to publicly approve of what was happening.
More striking, of course, was how much better the reboot was than the original. The 1984 version was a tossed off “SNL” spin-off joint, a bit of kid-oriented fluff when it arrived. But a female “Ghostbusters” could not be fluff. It had to be smart and hilarious from start to finish, or it wouldn’t be good enough.
“Ocean’s 8” isn’t trying to win an Oscar (or even a Golden Globe.) Nor did it feel the need to bring aboard anyone from the George Clooney versions. This is a film that clearly could not care less if the boys from earlier editions approve of it. There is something incredibly refreshing — and yes, even empowering, about that.
Ultimately, “Ocean’s 8” isn’t trying to improve on the all-male versions that came before it — although it arguably does anyway
So is “Ocean’s 8” great? Not particularly, although it certainly got a lot of laughs from the all-female audience I watched it with. Rather, it’s a completely average Hollywood blockbuster starring a cast that clearly is having a lot of fun together — and wants audiences to feel the same way.
Fifty years ago, you couldn’t get cooler than Sinatra and his high-rolling Rat Pack. In 2018, the biggest names of the day are back at it, gleefully walking a red carpet in evening gowns most of us could only dream of looking so good in and still covered in gorgeous eye-candy — albeit of the more mineral variety.
Ultimately, “Ocean’s 8” isn’t trying to improve on the all-male versions that came before it — although it arguably does anyway — and it certainly doesn’t feel the need to prove why it exists. Equality indeed.
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.