‘Ocean’s 8’ is an Exercise in Expectation vs. Reality

In the past few years, reboots have become as ubiquitous as Marvel sequels. It feels like every week a new reboot gets announced. On TV, there’s Will and Grace, Fuller House, and the now-cancelled Roseanne. In film, there’s been 21 Jump Street, The Mummy, yet another Spider-Man reboot and of course, Ghostbusters. It’s hard not to compare Ocean’s 8 to the plethora of reboots that have come down the pipeline. But I can safely say that Ocean’s 8 is exactly what it needs to be. It’s fun, campy, silly, and suave. Every actress was perfect and absolute in the roles. And in so many ways, it checked all the boxes of a good heist film: good tricks, intricate plans, and unexpected plot twists.

Ocean’s 8 follows Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean’s con of a sister. Fresh from jail, she immediately starts plotting the theft of a lifetime: steal a priceless Cartier necklace during the Met Gala. Collecting skilled woman after skilled woman, her crack team of criminal masterminds strut, wriggle, flirt and cry their way to their ultimate goal: a lot of money.

The movie played upon the way women and femininity are viewed, and played it to its advantage. “Hims are noticed; hers are ignored,” Sandra Bullock, as Debbie Ocean, says in the movie. And she would be right. Female-led films are often ignored, as are female issues and female stories. Evaluations like the Bechdel Test have become standards as women in films are more often than not pitted against each other, rather than banding together. At a press conference held in Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sandra Bullock told reporters that “I didn’t care about the heist as much as how they treated each other and how they lifted each other up.”

Image via Barry Wetcher

Then again, the idea of visibility is also utilized when it comes to who’s working what in their con. The women of color (Mindy Kaling; Awkwafina) are placed in the service roles during the heist where they’re sure to be forgotten faces. Sarah Paulson and Cate Blanchett are allocated the roles of women in charge, bossing the Met Gala staff like it’s literally their job. The heist assignments highlights the blind spots in society, who’s willing to ignore whom.

The duality of the audience’s expectations is also played upon in all the women. Take for example Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, and Rihanna. Mindy Kaling traditionally plays over-confident characters; in Ocean’s, her character Amita is reserved and rebelling for the first time. Awkwafina defies the audience expectation of demure Asian women, and instead presents a version of Asian American New Yorkers. Awkwafina told reporters “my character of Constance isn’t defined by her ‘Asianess. There’s many ways Asian Americans are misused in movies — they’re seen as the joke or stereotypes. But, people should let them speak in their American voices and give them unique, complex characters that aren’t a brooding ‘tiger mom’ or overachieving student.”

Rihanna, who is the unofficial Queen of the Met Gala,  gets to play against type, dressing down and repping her Carribbean roots. Then there’s Anne Hathaway. Her character is as self-absorbed as she is glamorous. Or so one would think. When she lets down her veneer, her ditzy diva turns into an acutely aware crook. It’s a perfect play on expectation versus reality. Unfortunately, that switch is only played for a few short lines.

At the press conference, writer/director Gary Ross talked about the writers’ efforts to make sure that the eight women in the film were distinct and fully-dimensional. Their looks were as different as their skill sets. “We’re celebrating eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds, and this is what the world looks like, not just what Hollywood has made the world look like,” he told reporters. His co-writer, Olivia Milch (writer/director of the indie film Dude), added that “That idea that female characters can be many different things and not reduced to the archetype that we tend to see — that was something that was really driving me to tell that story.”

L-R Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Audiences will surely find delight in how the crime was tailored specifically to women. The heist feeds itself on high-fashion, famous designers, and celebrity culture. The script utilizes what is commonly perceived as superficial and feminine, and allows the female characters plays their feminine wiles to their fullest strengths. Sometimes, the idea of femininity was a little bit too performative, leading to some plot holes that I’ll never understand. (Seriously, how did Awkwafina’s hair go from straight to coiffed in a few minutes?) But the visuals of these women working a game was probably too much to resist, and my questions weren’t enough to deter my enjoyment of the film.

That being said, there was one snag that I still can’t get over. In terms of the script, it feels as if the writers played it too safe. Yes, the stakes were high. But never for a moment does it feel that Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) was not in control of her situation. There was never a moment when things were really spiraling. The audience is deftly guided from scam to scam, so much so that I never felt our heroes would fail. Even in the most droll Marvel movie, when we know that the superheroes are going to win the day, there’s still a moment they might lose it all. That moment never came in Ocean’s 8, and I so wish it did. To watch our heroines, who remained so calm and collected, lose control would have made the film that much more satisfying. I wish these characters had gotten that chance. Maybe in Ocean’s 9. Who knows?

If there’s one theme to take away from Ocean’s 8, it’s that when women band together, unexpected things can happen. A housewife can become a criminal, a good girl can counterfeit jewelry, and another female-flipped reboot can make one heck of a fun summer flick.

Ocean’s 8 opens in theatres everywhere on June 8th.

2 thoughts on “‘Ocean’s 8’ is an Exercise in Expectation vs. Reality

  1. the studios are just out to make money trying to make a social statement is just part of the game . I laugh at how people are so amp when a new release comes out , relax people it’s just a movie

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