Let’s get this out of the way right away: Ocean's 8 isn’t your typical chick flick, and it’s more than a heist movie with a novel twist (an all-female cast). Still, the latest of the Ocean's movies, in which Sandra Bullock takes the lead as theft-minded Debbie Ocean (sister to George Clooney’s casino-robbing mastermind Danny Ocean), will probably appeal to women more than men, and that’s no accident. This is the kind of movie besties might make a girls night of, stopping for a few cocktails beforehand, or moms might take their teen daughters to at the multiplex after a day of shopping. These are girlie things to do, I know, but they are complementary because this film is in many ways a female fantasy, a really rollicking one, with badass women taking chances, being funny, showing off myriad skills, cheating the system and enjoying one another’s company, all while looking fabulous.
But it’s not a chick flick in the traditional sense, because movies targeted to female audiences are almost always about love, or at least involve a love interest. Ocean's 8 is refreshingly romance-free, and though there is an undeniable woman-scorned thread woven throughout, it doesn’t define the main character (Bullock’s Ocean). It becomes clear about midway through that her motivations are more complex, especially when she’s called out on it by the person who knows her best, Cate Blanchett’s Lou.
Blanchett’s understated yet cool, androgynous flair almost steals the show here, and that’s saying something with a stellar cast that includes Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina, not to mention a jolly good turn by James Corden (essentially playing himself) as an oft-foiled insurance agent who has been following the thieving exploits of the Ocean clan for years.
Bullock plays Deb much as Clooney played Dan, slick and subdued, maybe too serious (Miss Congeniality she ain't), and laser-focused on the big prize. Blanchett is obviously meant to be sort of “the Brad Pitt” here, the blonde to Bullock’s brunette, the smarter (maybe/maybe not) sidekick with killer style and the guts to tell her girl she’s risking a trip back to the slammer, something that the audience can’t really forget, as we see Ocean leaving jail (after five years, eight months and 12 days, as she reminds us later) in the opening scene. This plot point does make the whole premise of the movie seem a little preposterous at times, especially since it’s pretty clear this crafty lady could lead a great life running petty cons and less elaborate crimes; some of the best scenes in the film might be after Ocean has just been released, as she “returns” pricy products she shoplifted in a fancy department store and grifts a free room at a glamorous New York Hotel.
Speaking of New York, the city is sort of a character in itself. It’s not unlike Sex and the City in this regard (minus the sex). Ocean's 8 is, in fact, better than any of the SATC films in conveying the starkness of the metropolis, and I dare say the fashion is better, too. (Highlight: Blanchett in a powder-blue pantsuit à la Bowie circa Life on Mars). The entire thing leads up to one big night — the Met Gala, a fashion event that in recent years has surpassed even the Oscars as the ultimate designer spectacle. Instead of cash from a Vegas casino, the prize that Ocean’s team of talented women is after is a diamond necklace: a vintage Cartier piece valued at $150 million.
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As with most heist films, the planning and coordination leading up to the actual job build a lot of anticipation to see it all in action. It's all pretty clichéd, but Clooney and his Ocean's 11, 12 and 13 crews used to their advantage the classic devices, setups and even predictable snafus that make it look as if our heroes might get caught. There was a sort of cheekiness to those films that made for an obvious homage to the original 1960s Rat Pack vehicle.
That cheekiness is missing here. The actors all seem to play it pretty straight but the good news is that writers Gary Ross and Olivia Milch give everyone a moment to shine, to be witty and rock their respective skillsets and reason for being there. No one disappoints, either. Hathaway’s wacky movie star probably gets the biggest laughs, but Bonham Carter as a bumbling fashion designer is a close second. The rest of the women make the most of their time onscreen. Mindy Kaling as jeweler Amita is a fairly on-the-nose character here, but she’s fun to watch, as is Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom/fence Tammy. Awkwafina as street con Constance makes a lot of sense and she’s highly believable, while Rihanna is probably the biggest revelation and an inspired casting choice. As Nine Ball, she’s a rasta-queen computer expert and hacker, a chill AF stoner babe who in many ways makes Ocean's entire plan possible.
The stars and the settings of Ocean's 8 look really good, too. It's shot beautifully (you'll marvel at Bullock and Blanchett's poreless complexions during the close-up scenes as much as you will the Met crowd shots, which look very real and feature tons of celebrity cameos). Directed by Ross (The Hunger Games, Pleasantville) with co-writing credit by Milch (creator of the Netflix female-driven stoner comedy Dude), this latest in the Ocean's franchise was produced by Steven Soderbergh, who directed all three of the Clooney films. Jerry Weintraub produced those and was involved in the preliminary talks for this one but, sadly, he died before it was complete. Susan Ekins, another producer from the Ocean’s franchise, stepped in.
And in case you're wondering, yes, there are some surprise appearances by a couple of the Vegas Ocean's crew in this one. I won't give 'em away, but I should say they are probably not the guys most of Ocean's 8's female audience would want to see. That's OK, though, because it's not about them.