“Have you heard good things about Ocean’s 8?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago.
“Not yet, but how bad can it be?” I replied. “That cast! Those clothes! I know it’s at least going to provide certain superficial pleasures.”
In retrospect, my assessment was pretty spot on. Ocean’s 8 is a pleasant two hours, mostly because of, well, that cast and those clothes. The plot is slick and serviceable—a by-the-book heist film set at the glamorous Met Gala (more clothes!). It’s the canny casting, the slick costume and set design, and the performances, particularly those of Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway, that will make it catnip for some.
Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, and, like her brother, she's a thief and con-(wo)man extraordinaire. As the film starts, she’s being released from prison on parole, after straight-facedly promising to lead “the simple life” on the outside. Of course, once she gets out (right after cleverly fencing some luxury goods from Bergdorf Goodman), she tracks down her old partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett, giving us full lesbian-chic swagger) and shares her desire to rob the Met Gala, something she’s been assiduously planning for the five years of her incarceration. (If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen Bullock’s deliciously tossed off line reading of “Because it’s what I’m good at” when Lou asks her why she needs to do this.)
From there, we assemble the team: Diamond expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), who works at her parents’ jewelry store and is itching to get out from under her overbearing mother’s thumb; dreadlocked hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), who brings her DGAF island cool to the mix; tomboyish skate-rat Constance (Awkwafina), a skilled pickpocket; and suburban mom with a garage full of stolen goods, Tammy (Sarah Paulson). There are two more crucial players: Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), the has-been, Betsy Johnson-esque clothing designer who’s in debt up to her eyeballs, and therefore easily persuaded to partake in the con; and our mark, the hilariously vainglorious celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), who is the co-chair of the Met Gala.
The film throws in lots of glossy bits for verisimilitude: It’s filmed at the real Metropolitan Museum of Art and there are celebrity cameos galore, including Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian, Zac Posen, Common, and, yes, Anna Wintour herself.
The problem with the film is twofold: First, we have the puddle-deep relationship between the con artists. Laugh all you will at the Fast and Furious films, but that crew’s allegiance to each other and sense of “family” is what holds the series together. (The one relationship here that should resonate—the friendship between Debbie and Lou—is disappointingly shallow; to be honest, I’m not even certain what Lou’s special thieving skill is, other than looking fabulous in animal prints.)
Then, there’s the sense of déjà vu you get while watching it. Look, the “assemble a team, pull off a heist” formula is tried and true and probably shouldn’t be messed with much, but we need a few wrinkles (see Soderbergh’s recent Logan Lucky for an example of how to do it right). We’re supposed to take pleasure in Debbie’s excellence, the way she anticipates every possible snag and is always one step ahead, but after a certain point it just becomes predictable and dull. (Even the twists, such as they are, are extremely standard—and one is directly stolen from Ocean’s Eleven.)
It’s funny that I’m essentially giving this film the same review that I gave the recent Book Club, but the films are extremely similar. In both films, the plot is just an excuse to hang out with the glittering cast. Both films are engined by a kind of feminist-adjacent novelty (an-all female heist film! women over 65 having sex!). And both films are better than they should be. Hey, they don’t call them stars for nothing.