Oceans 8 rambling review
Lemme just start with this - I could watch Cate Blanchett tap on a brioche bun for 6 hours and be thoroughly entertained. She is inexplicably captivating. I’ve felt that way since discovering her back in the 1990’s in the richly stylized period drama Elizabeth. - though I remember sitting in the theater then under the assumption she was Tilda Swinton who, like Kate Blanchett, is also captivating - and also had a slow burn career that took her from “good actress with an accent” to “untouchable blessed mother of performance,” but By the time, Lord of the Rings rolled around, I had a firm understanding of who Cate was - and that she was not Tilda Swinton, and that she was being touted as an actress with an air of sophistication and seriousness. She was certainly not marketed in the same way as - let’s say, Sandra Bullock. Lil’ Sandy Bullock was still doing snort-laugh comedies like Miss Congeniality. Occasionally, she acted in dramas, such as A Time to Kill, but they weren’t heavy dramas - they were… Time to Kill dramas. She was the Anne Hathaway of her day - only more likable. Now take all these ladies, but switch out Tilda for her equally weird but never quite as acclaimed Brit-mate Helena Bonham Carter, and smash em together with a few younger actresses, a comedian, and a singer turned actress who has turned out to be pretty good - and you have the makings of a good time.
Walking into Oceans 8, I had expectations. The original Clooney/Pitt Oceans movies have become classics and have permeated our culture to the point that the title itself is used to refer to any elaborate caper. I often catch myself imitating Pierce from Community any time I think I’ve pulled off some minor con-job with “Oceans eleven, baby!!!” All that being said, the film delivers the promised elaborately planned heist. There are turns, fake-outs, and oodles of camaraderie - this time, the female variety. The music and filming style are also reminiscent of the original films. For what it’s worth, it feels like an Oceans movie.
My only complaint would be that it drags just a bit - and it lacks real tension. While there were great stakes, I never felt nervous about the characters’ precarious situations. Don’t misunderstand me, though - Neither of those faults were enough to turn me off from the film. Like I said earlier, I could watch Cate Blanchett do anything - or nothing - and be entertained. And in this film, she has so much swagger, so much (is she a) lesbian chic. She’s dominating and gorgeous and she cooly drapes herself over every scene. Bullock is great too. It’s her movie, after all. She is the queen of empathy - a Tom Hanks-like “every person” - and it doesn’t hurt that over the years, her range has grown.
But it’s not the big stars of Oceans 8 who are the stars of Oceans 8. The film is carried by the unique combination of lesser stars who fill out the 6 other heist members. A who’s who of up and coming women of color - and Sarah Paulson - and the aforementioned Helena Bonham Carter. Mindy Kaling, pop singer Rihanna, and Awkwafina shine in their smaller but meaty roles. I think where the film shines is in representation. The film plays against stereotypes with the Asian American Awkwafina playing a pickpocket and Rihanna playing a computer hacker. I can only imagine less thoughtful films switching those roles.
The film shines a light on female friendships and relationships in a way I haven’t seen in quite a while. At no point is there a catfight or some rivalry over a man - in fact, men are portrayed as sex objects and foils, not as anything any of the heroines of the film aspire to catch. During one moment in the film, Rihanna calls upon her teenage sister to help solve an engineering crisis they are having. The moment is punctuated with a tender hug between the sisters - in fact, affection and appreciation abounds in the film. Late in the film, Anne Hathaway’s character laments that she doesn’t have enough girl friends - echoing a sentiment many woman may feel living in a patriarchal society that often pits them against each other.
I’d like to conclude with some musings on representation - which I have a lot of opinions about…. Representation is important - but not just mere representation. There needs to be nuance and variety. With any group, there needs to be representation of the good, the bad, and the grey - but that also means that there needs to be enough individuals from that group in a film or in many films to feel a balance of those traits. We need to see real characters and not just perfect cookie cutter facsimiles. At the same time, broad representations in mainstream big-budget films - like Oceans 8 - is just as important as the more nuanced representations presented in smaller independent films - like Carol. Sometimes, people may balk at all-female reboots like Ghostbusters or Oceans 8, but they’re actually just as important as smaller, more intimate films.