Review: Ocean’s 8
Sandra Bullock is Debbie Ocean, sister to George Clooney’s Danny, who was the lead character of a few dreary heist movies you might’ve seen. Like her brother, Debbie’s a crim, and fresh out of prison when we meet her. She’s got her next criminal enterprise already long-planned, one for which she’ll be joined by long-time acquaintance Lou (Cate Blanchett). The heist will involve the services of a thief (Awkwafina), a tech expert (Rihanna), a jeweller (Mindy Kaling), a party planner (Sarah Paulson), a fashion guru (Helena Bonham Carter), and unwittingly a top starlet (Anne Hathaway) set to be adorned with expensive jewellery at an upcoming awards ceremony. Richard Armitage is somehow figured into all of it as Debbie’s jerk ex, whilst James Corden appears late as a detective, and Elliott Gould provides a more concrete link to the previous three “Ocean’s” films.
When this 2018 all-female attempt at an “Ocean’s” movie was first released I was in two minds about whether I was interested in seeing it. On the one hand, I haven’t seen any entry into this franchise that I’ve actually liked, including the original 1960 film. They’re all slow, bloated-yet-underdone, overlong, and boring. The exact opposite of what I want out of a heist film. On the other hand, an all-female heist film was intriguing enough to me that I thought maybe a unique, feminine perspective could give this franchise something to enjoy. Then you also have two top stars who could easily fit into a light caper setting (Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway), one genuinely great actress on her best day (Cate Blanchett), and a couple of solid character actresses (Helena Bonham-Carter and Sarah Paulson). Y’know, this thing might just be worth checking out.
Unfortunately, director Gary Ross (who gave us the brilliant comic fantasy “Pleasantville” and the dreadful “The Hunger Games”) and his co-writer Olivia Milch (writer-director of something called “Dude”) give us the worst “Ocean’s” film to date. It’s a film so lazy, charmless, and retrograde in its depiction of women that I, as the very furthest thing from a woman, was even offended by it. And no, Ms. Kaling, this isn’t my irrelevant white maleness trying to slander your all-female film out of some misogynistic agenda or lack of understanding about the opposite sex (Google her, kids. She had opinions about the film’s failure. Really, really bad opinions). Your film is just a lazy, horribly stereotyped piece of crap.
I honestly cannot believe this is the best they could do, let alone that a woman was involved in the writing of it, and that none of the plethora of female voices in the cast saw this for the subpar and frankly old-fashioned depiction of women that it is. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but at the very least I expected something fairly forward-thinking and topical. Instead we get half-arsed, outdated, and stereotyped. Just because it’s a heist movie and it’s supposed to be light and fun, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. I mean, did we really need scenes of the women getting all glammed up for an awards ceremony? Is that the best they could do for an all-female heist, a jewel theft at an awards ceremony? It’s so clichéd and stereotyped to the point of actually being offensive. How stereotyped and clichéd? Anna Wintour has a cameo as herself. Yeah. I’m surprised they weren’t robbing fucking Tiffany’s for crying out loud.
I also felt that the cast were largely unimpressive here. Sandra Bullock looks post-1991 Julia Roberts levels of ‘grumpy’, and although she’s a supposed expert criminal, her only supposed skill here appears to be spying on her ex (Richard Armitage, the poor man’s Rupert Everett). Rihanna isn’t in any way a credible actress. Awkwafina is apparently a person’s (adopted) name, and she’s…actually, let’s hold up here. I’d never heard of her before this film, and this one’s a bit bizarre. We’ve been led to believe for a while now that cultural appropriation is a bad thing (The notion kicked in about 10 years ago or so I think), yet apparently the very Asian-American Awkwafina is allowed to blatantly adopt African-American hip-hop culture speech patterns, mannerisms etc., and no one bats an eyelid at this in a film made at a time where this sort of shit gets picked up on all the time? Seriously, you want to erase a film from 1939 for being culturally outdated (duh), and lambast celebrities for donning ‘blackface’ (a terrible, racist thing to do) years and years ago, but this chick’s allowed to culturally appropriate right now? It’s completely obvious, entirely distracting, irritating, and based on my understanding of what cultural appropriation is…it’s culturally inappropriate. Don’t get me wrong, this white guy thinks cultural appropriation can get taken too far sometimes – was Elvis indulging in cultural appropriation when adopting African-American rhythm and blues? ‘Coz that makes you re-think the entire genre of rock ‘n’ roll if that’s the case. It can get pretty ridiculous if taken far enough. However, I was really quite surprised to see Awkwafina do her schtick here nonetheless (At least it’s what I’ve subsequently read to be her schtick, as I said, never heard of her. I’m old and uncool). The weird thing is there are moments where she drops the schtick, which stands out like a sore thumb just as much. What the hell? I just didn’t know what to make of this Awkwafina lady, I’m afraid.
There are several cast/characters here who are just completely wasted – Sarah Paulson, Rihanna and Mindy Kaling especially have one specific trait or occupation that gets played out quickly, and thus are left with little to do the rest of the time. Actually, for Kaling her supposed skill/expertise isn’t even called upon until the last stretch of the film. The rest of the time you’re wondering just what the hell she’s doing here. Paulson’s gig as a ‘party planner’ is pretty thankless and uninteresting. Rihanna is simply miscast as a supposed tech expert. I know she’s not an actress to begin with, but she just comes across like someone trying to remember their lines and get their jargon out without tripping over it. Cate Blanchett (In my view the world’s best living actress when on a good day and given good material) shows off plenty of presence and star charisma, but doesn’t play much of an interesting character, I’m afraid. Anne Hathaway radiates charm, but her character is another story altogether. Like everyone and everything else here she’s a lazy female stereotype: a jealous diva actress. She plays it well but that shit was done better in the 50s when it was with Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in “All About Eve”. Seriously, all of these women behind and in front of the camera have taken the heist movie concept and their only feminine spin is to superficially ‘Carrie Bradshaw/Audrey Hepburn-meets “Pretty Woman”’ the hell out of it? Ugh. The film’s nadir? A scene where a woman (played by an Oscar-winning actress no less) uses her body to dupe and seduce a man. Yep, in full #MeToo 2019 when this was released, a female-centric movie co-written by a woman gives us that. The final insult here? The only halfway amusing person in the film is a man, the usually obnoxious and tiresomely unfunny James Corden. He’s actually tolerable for once. The entire film completely deflates before the needlessly extended finale.
Surely all of this female talent, not to mention a solid male director and co-writer, could’ve produced something more substantial than scenes of women getting their hair and nails done and strutting along the red carpet in attractive gowns. Really? This is the best we’re gonna do? I really wanted to like this, as despite not being a fan of the franchise, I do love capers when they’re well done. This isn’t well done. What a waste of time, talent, and premise. If they weren’t gonna give us a good light-hearted caper how about at least giving us “Widows” with a biting comedic edge? Either one would’ve sufficed. Nope, we don’t get either of those films. A woman co-wrote this lazy, outdated shit? One can hardly believe it. It’s also, away from the gender stuff, even more boring and slowly-paced than the other “Ocean’s” films, and no one here is remotely funny. It’s always nice to see Elliott Gould, but Sandra Bullock seems pissed off, and Awkwafina’s schtick left me feeling slightly uncomfortable and confused. If you enjoyed the film, don’t despair: According to Ms. Kaling, my white male reviewer opinion is irrelevant anyway. Or perhaps I’m onto something and the film just sucks. Could be that and you’re just deflecting, Ms. Kaling (I’m half-serious. Opinions are subjective anyway).