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Ocean’s 8 Shines Bright Like a Diamond

Let’s be honest, the all-female Ghosbusters reboot didn’t deserve the hate. It was a fun showcase for very enjoyable performers with a plot just good enough to justify throwing the cast together. Still, the backlash was intense and the resulting box office so mediocre that it’s a miracle Ocean’s 8 was even made.

Its cast is even more stacked, featuring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna and Anne Hathaway as their unwitting pawn. The plot is a twist on Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 take (also a remake of the ‘60s version) with sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Debbie (Sandra Bullock) assembling a team of stylish grifters so they can go the Met Gala and steal a necklace right off the actress wearing it. The result is just as glamorous and fun as you’d hope.

While Ocean’s Eleven hinged on a romance plot, there are real no love interests here— not that Debbie’s team don’t flirt shamelessly. They just flirting with each other. There’s a playfulness and laidback swagger to the way Debbie recruits each member of the team that feels like seduction. Blanchett’s Lou exudes sexual charisma, so much so that you almost expect her to pull a Carol and invite every new member of the team to a clandestine glove lunch. Surely Nine Ball’s (Rihanna) aloofness is a tease, right?

Regardless, Debbie and Mindy Kaling’s Amita are the only characters we see in heterosexual relationships, but with the exception of Richard Armitage’s smarmy Claude Becker, the men that appear are largely ornamental or fools. Instead, the film’s focus is how good these women are at their jobs and how much they enjoy doing them well and stylishly.

Setting the heist at the annual Met Gala requires a certain level of glamor, but there’s a sense of class that suffuses the rest of the film too. These women may be criminals and grifters, but they’re also successful and they’re successful because they’re so damn competent. Just to pull off this heist, Debbie and Lou must be experts in art and fashion history, but also current pop culture. It’s unexpectedly thrilling to see them treat those traditionally feminine pursuits with such gravitas especially in comparison to say, the silliness and soullessness implied in something like The Devil’s Wear Prada.

It’s a clever bit of casting then (and perhaps an intentional one) that Anne Hathaway also plays a big role here. She so often plays the neurotic nice girl and is portrayed that way in real life that it’s easy to forget the actress once also gave us a very good Catwoman. We see shades of Selina in Daphne Kluger and Hathaway gives a career-best performance. She plays Daphne as the kind of self-absorbed monster you almost secretly hope Hathaway is in private.

As the film goes on, we get the sense that Daphne is a good actress because she‘s probably always performing, always pretending to feel emotions and empathy she’s never actually experienced. It feels wrong to compare the core 8 performances when the film’s tone and marketing has been so friendly, but Hathaway is the brightest star in a film full of compelling female performances.

It’s unfortunate then, that the film itself doesn’t quite live up to its actresses’ vibrancy. Gary Ross is not as stylish or meticulous a director as Soderbergh. There’s none of the surprising camera work or segmenting of the frame that distinguished Ocean’s Eleven and while the film is totally serviceable, it can feel a little lifeless visually.

Still, Ross deserves credit for creating a set where these actresses felt so comfortable to play. He and co-writer Olivia Milch created the playground they get to play in and while the script is often funny and frequently clever, it’s also imperfect. Part of what gives Soderbergh’s first Ocean’s staying power is how cleverly it’s constructed. The script pulls just as many tricks on the audience as it does on the characters. Ross and Milch are more interested in impressing us with how competent and controlled Debbie’s team is and while that’s an admirable goal, it also leaves the film feeling a little soft.

That’s especially true at the end, after the job has been pulled and after an insurance fraud investigator shows up and threatens to uncover the whole plot. The gumshoe, John Frazier, is played by Late, Late Show host James Corden, who is the film’s one bad bit of casting. There is always a scenery chewing desperation in Corden’s acting and while it’s funny in his “Crosswalk Musical” bits, it sticks out in the wrong way here. We never believe for a second that this unassuming goof could catch any member of the Ocean family with their fly down—let alone committing a crime. Not for a single second do we think the team might face consequences.

Then again, maybe we wouldn’t expect it anyway. It’s fun to watch these women be so good at what they do and enjoy hanging out together while they do it. Having them face consequences or even face too much danger would spoil the fun. Regardless of the gloss and the glamor, the real draw here is watching this great set of actresses play around. The heist is just the excuse bring them together.

Rating: 8/10

Ocean’s 8 is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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