Of course, it’s a heist film; and in a heist film, you first have to have a devious mastermind who came up with the whole thing. In the case of Ocean’s Eight, that mastermind is writer/director Gary Ross. He’s an interesting choice, with only a handful of directing, writing, and producing credits over the last thirty years; but his film is tightly-written, well-executed, and adroitly shot. He leaves the flash and flourish to the cast.
And that’s exactly what you need next after your mastermind comes up with the plan: a team. This is where the film really shines. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are the coolest women in Hollywood today, and every frame featuring them is a testament to why. Anne Hathaway is a surprisingly-hilarious pastiche of modern celebrity, lighting up the screen in a remarkably likable way. Mindy Kaling’s portrayal was shocking in its depth. Sarah Paulson plays a unique role for this genre, and she pitches it perfectly. Awkwafina and Rihanna play the “young” members of the team but manage to avoid almost all possible cringe. And Helena Bonham Carter is a delight in everything she touches. The cast is a nearly-complete roster of some of the best female actors in Hollywood today, and they play off of one another perfectly.
After you’ve assembled your team, you have to know the layout of the target backward and forward. Ocean’s Eight has a pretty straightforward layout, as heist films go: Debbie Ocean (Bullock) gets out of jail and wants to pull one more big job, so she assembles a team to rob a remarkably valuable necklace during the Met Gala. Hijinks ensue.
Now, if all that doesn’t sound remarkably original, but for the fact that the entire main cast is women, well, you’re not wrong; but if it’s fun, it doesn’t really have to be original. Thankfully, this one is fun. It uses a good formula, and it executes it well. 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven has long been one of my favorite films, and its little sister is a fine heir to that honor. While it doesn’t reach the same heights as George Clooney’s first take on the heist genre, it’s still a lot of fun; and a suave, self-assured ride filled with cool women doing cool things.
And, yes; women comprise the entire main cast. In a film series whose previous entries don’t even pass the “Bechdel Test,” that’s a remarkable step forward. Not only are Bullock and Blanchett presented as the smartest people in any room they enter, they’re capable, driven, well-rounded characters with dreams and aspirations. They don’t wallow in their femininity – it’s only mentioned once, really – but the setting and interactions seem (at least to me, a dude) to have a feminine “truth” to them not often seen in film.
Not that women are the only characters in the movie. James Corden plays a particularly fun secondary character with great comedic timing, and a few of the cast from the original Ocean’s films make cameo appearances that honor Clooney’s trilogy without weighing down what Bullock and her team are trying to do.
And the film, while fun, isn’t perfect. I could’ve done with a bit more Mindy Kaling, for instance; and a lot more personal moments with all of the main cast so that I get to know who they are and why I should care about how they fare in the heist. The script didn’t quite rise to the caliber of the talent, and the directing was merely serviceable. The music didn’t strike me as powerfully as it did in Eleven, either.
It’s tough to talk about Ocean’s Eight without also mentioning the last women-led reboot: 2016’s Ghostbusters. I’ll cut to the chase: this one is definitely better. The women of Ghostbusters tried to ignore the men who came before them, while the women of Ocean’s Eight build on the mythos (and even formula) that the Clooney films establish (for good or ill). And the comedy of the Ghostbusters felt forced and false, while the interactions between Ocean’s Eight are all quite believable and real. If McCarthy and Wiig tried to portray themselves as “just like the guys,” Bullock and Blanchett find success in “leaning in” to their femininity: using it as a part of the film rather than trying to hide it. It’s not over-sexualized or over-repressed, but a real part of these women’s natures.
In the end, though, this film isn’t just about women. Like many heist films, it’s also about filling your niche within your community. It’s established early on that none of the Eight can successfully complete the job on their own, nor can they hope to escape capture without the aid of others. The message isn’t exclusively Christian, but it is particularly Christian; we encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25) and carry the burdens others aren’t able to bear (Galatians 6:2). Without the rest of our community, we cannot complete the mission God has for us on Earth (Romans 12:4-5).
But mostly, it’s about having fun. It’s about watching a breezy and fun film with a lot of smart, stylish people in it.
And feeling really cool as you walk out of the theater.