Saturday Features

No-boys club

For a movie led entirely by women, Ocean’s 8 doesn’t appear to be much interested in unpacking the dynamics between them, or going beyond a very cursory view of female friendship

Jun 30, 2018-When we first meet her, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister to the deceased Danny Ocean—that old suave charmer of a crook played by George Clooney whom you’ll no doubt remember from previous films in the Ocean’s series—is just wrapping up a five-year stint in the slammer for art fraud. No sooner has she stepped out onto the streets a free woman (surprisingly well-coiffed for someone who was behind bars), though, than she’s fallen right back on old habits, smoothly conning her way into some free luxury goods and a swanky hotel room in New York.

This is, of course, mere child’s play compared to what Deb has spent all those years in prison planning and ironing out meticulously—she is an Ocean, after all, and we know these guys don’t do anything remotely halfway. The target, this time around, is a $150 million Cartier diamond necklace, the six-pound ‘Toussaint’, which has been locked up in an underground vault for around 50 years. To get her hands on the piece, Deb soon reconnects with her old, literal partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), who immediately starts helping her put together an ace team: namely, top-notch hacker Nine-Ball (Rihanna), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), impossibly dexterous pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), fence-in-suburban-housewife-disguise Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter). All of their very specific skill-sets are to be put to very specific uses as this heist of heists gets underway, leading up to that most prestigious of celebrity shindigs, the Met Gala, where the Toussaint is to be out and about, displayed on the shapely neck of actress and diva extraordinaire Daphne (Anne Hathaway).

You may, like me, have been excited by the prospect of a gender-flipped, all-women take on what has essentially comprised a long-running boys’ club. And this latest installment of the Ocean’s series, directed by Gary Ross of The Hunger Games and Seabiscuit fame, has certainly spared no effort when it comes to assembling the necessary talent to that end: It’s a star-studded affair if there ever was one, and that’s not even counting the many, many, many cameos that have been tacked on. But despite the visible exertions of its multiple, capable leads, the diversion of pointing out familiar faces—which gets old pretty fast—and the fairly stylish, snazzy visuals, Ocean’s 8 never quite hits the mark. Although not a complete disaster per se—it does have its moments—it’s just not as funny or smart as one would hope it would be, and the gender-switch ultimately comes across as more of a marketing device than anything else.

Let’s start with the heist itself: While the occasional lucky break can be appreciated, hinging the plot on too-convenient contrivance after contrivance stretches credulity a bit too far; it’s just too many right people in the right place at the right time. Really, it would appear that all these various pieces of the puzzle were simply drumming their collective fingers, biding their time until Debbie’s release to fall obediently into place. In putting together the team, for instance, she has laughably little convincing to do, which is highly unlikely considering the work and stakes involved. Ross and his writers also seem a little too taken with, and determined to glorify, the idea of crime as biological destiny—most of these women don’t steal because they have to, after all, they do it because they want, seemingly even need, to.

While I can understand the desireto give the team that slick sheen of confident, almost superhuman, competency—much as their male counterparts enjoyed in previous films—it really shouldn’t have come at the expense of suspense and tension. The characters would’ve felt more tangible to viewers had they been thrown a few more curves, a few more hurdles to jump over in this sort of mammoth undertaking. The way things proceed here is just too unbelievably smooth—watch out in particular for a smug, last minute revelation that is sure to have you rolling your eyes.

Those stumbles in terms of script are all the more disappointing for the kind of talent that has been rounded up in the film, although the attempt at diversity in casting might feel a touch on the nose. Try as they might, the leads just can’t rise above their ill-developed roles. And that includes Blanchett, an actress I’d until now believed could do no wrong, wasted herein a thankless part that is mostly limited to sauntering around in an enviable range of designer wear and endless tough-girl posturing. There is also a palpable lack of chummy chemistry between her and supposed BFF Bullock, who—whether intentionally or not—plays it very wooden. Thank god, then, for one Hathaway, whose performance, a hilarious send-up of celebrity narcissism and exercise in self-parody, is an absolute delight to watch and the film’s saving grace.

Things might have worked better had the team been given a few scenes where they could’ve just bantered and bonded, particularly at the beginning when they’ve just joined forces, but the story chugs too fast and too mechanically through all of that, leaving their loyalty to one another feeling more than a little unearned. Indeed, for a movie led entirely by women, Ocean’s 8 doesn’t appear to be much interested in unpacking the dynamics between them, or going beyond a very cursory view of female friendship.

What’s even more frustrating is that despite its pretensions to empowerment—“Somewhere out there is an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. Do this for her,” goes Debbie’s pre-heist pep-talk—that message is again largely perfunctory. This is nowhere more evident than in the annoying subplot surrounding Debbie’s ex (played by Richard Armitage) that only serves to water down how we see her ambition and resolve—not to mention, the constant referrals to just “how proud” Danny would have been. Surprise, surprise, it’s still all about the men.

Ocean’s 8

Director: Gary Ross

Actors: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Paula Hawkins,

Rihanna, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling,

Helena Bonham Carter

Genre: Crime comedy

Published: 30-06-2018 07:47

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