In my review of Ocean’s Thirteen, I opined, “The role of women in the Ocean’s movies is, at best, problematic.” I wondered if Ocean’s 8 would “redeem the legacy from its sexist past.” After watching, I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
Unlike the recent remake of Ghostbusters, the all-female-star-cast movie which 8 will always be compared to, this new Ocean’s movie opened June 8 with generally positive reviews and a Want-to-See rating of 80% on Rottentomatoes.com. I have yet to see the 2016 version of Ghostbusters, so I cannot give an opinion on which is better. I am glad we are not seeing the vitriol on the internet the way we did back then.
In the short time the move has been out, ratings are beginning to slip slightly, and the box office numbers seem to be tumbling. There is stiff competition this summer, and none of the heavy hitters are growing legs. It does not help that the audience score has stayed around 50%, about the same as the current score for Ghostbusters 2016.
Even if it’s true Ocean’s 8 is a mediocre movie, is it still a positive milestone for women? Put another way, is Ocean’s 8 a few small steps in high heels for a small group of women, and a giant leap for womankind? That all depends on who you ask.
Just before the heist, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is standing in front of a mirror, either practicing a pep talk for her cohorts, or trying to give one to herself. She rambles on about how prison isn’t so bad, and then gives what is probably the most memorable line in the movie: “Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal. Let’s do this for her.”
Both times I watched the film, the audience (including me) broke out laughing. Is this really the type of thing we want to encourage for young women? Then again, by thinking such a thing, are we accusing Ocean’s 8 while excusing the “boyish pranks” of its predecessors? Pause and think about that a moment.
Anne Hathaway, who plays celebrity Daphne Kluger, must have had the “eight-year-old girl” quote in mind when she responded at a New York Press Conference:
To an 8-year-old girl maybe we’re not saying go have a life a crime, but to go do what you want and there’s space for you. There’s space for you to go do it with your friends, there’s room for all of you. I think that films that have an “everybody in” mentality and message for people who have historically been excluded is a good message for people.
In the same press conference, Bullock added her view that the movie stresses friendships between women.
Also just women taking care of each other. Women being good to each other. Women stepping back and letting the more gifted step forward in the heist and recognizing talent and saying go out and shine, I got your back. I think to me the most important thing was to show I didn’t care about the heist as much as I cared about how they treated each other and how they lifted each other up.
Certainly this is a positive message that can be taken from the movie, but not all critics see it this way. In Britain’s The Spectator, Deborah Ross’ snarky headline makes her opinion obvious: “Women can now make dull formulaic franchise films too! Hurrah!”
Ross simply despises the movie, asserting it has nothing original: “The film is a straight-up-and-down remake, where the gender swap may, in fact, be the best idea, possibly because it’s the only idea… It does not subvert the heist-caper genre in any way but instead follows the formula slavishly.”
While I would agree Ocean’s 8 is not the most brilliant movie ever, I certainly would not go so far as to say it was merely a gender-swap remake with no ideas. One of the best ideas, I thought, was that they made this caper much less complicated than those in the Steven Soderbergh trilogy. There is a reason this is Ocean’s 8 instead of Ocean’s 14. (Debbie’s scratchpad, with the 14 steps of her plan, is a clever bit of trivia in itself.) It doesn’t take 20 women to pull this off, as Lou (Debbie’s partner in crime, played by Cate Blanchett) was thinking it would. They only need 7. Half as many as it would have taken for the men to make Ocean’s 14. (I won’t give away where #8 comes in. You should be able to figure that out pretty quickly.)
At least one reviewer thought the heist was too easy. In a piece for Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson indicated he likes the movie, but that it made things too simple, “paring down the mechanics of its heist and fixing problems quickly and easily.” Some, like 361’s Joe Fiar, added they felt the movie lacked a sense of danger needed in a heist film.
However, in William Bibbiani’s piece for IGN, he argues all the “Ocean’s movies aren’t so much about the heists as they are about making the impossible look easy.” Bibbiani argues that while the Steven Soderbergh films were merely “light escapism,” Gary Ross uses the same easy confidence to transform his movie “into something inspirational.”
Taking the franchise away from the original proprietors who treated it like a lark, and giving it, instead, to female actors who don’t typically get these types of roles has undeniable significance that the characters themselves acknowledge.
Perhaps the fact this movie is so significant to us – whether in a positive or negative way – is an indication we still have far to go in how women are seen in our society. You can’t just say this was a good movie, or a bad movie, without bringing up its significance for women’s causes. Maybe it’s important to do so.
Hopefully someday it won’t be.