In 2012, stand-up comedian John Mulaney joked that there could never be an all-female heist movie: “Ocean’s 11 with women wouldn’t work, because two would keep breaking off to talk shit about the other nine.”
From a less capable comic, or post #MeToo, this might have registered as sexist; at the time, it simply seemed true. After all, the idea that women might have something to contribute to historically male cinematic territory was relatively new and unexplored.
It was only a year before Mulaney’s comment when Kristen Wiig’s “Bridesmaids” appropriated the raunchy buddy comedy with hilarious aplomb, and it would be several more years before the women of Hollywood made moves on closely-guarded bastions of male nerdery, including “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Ghostbusters” (2016).
More often than not, these feminist revampings of formerly male-led franchises were met with immediate misogynistic backlash online. Therefore, “Ocean’s 8,” a once-impossible movie, is a useful measuring stick for how much times have changed.
Director and writer Gary Ross’s reimagining of Steven Soderbergh’s early-2000s franchise (itself a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack film) follows Sandra Bullock’s (“Our Brand is Crisis”) Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s “Ocean’s 11” character, as she assembles a crew of con-women to steal Cartier diamonds from the neck of a narcissistic ingenue at the Met Gala.
“Ocean’s 8” is good in all the same ways as Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11”: The deep-dive into improbable glamour, the sleight-of-hand, the catharsis of watching charismatic people behaving badly.
It’s bad in all the same ways too: derivative, emotionally vapid, often cheesy. In fact, “Ocean’s 8” is practically a point-by-point reproduction of the original, but femmed-up by replacing a Vegas casino with the biggest night in fashion.
“Ocean’s 8” succeeds in overcoming the inherent mediocrity of its source material mostly due to the star-studded cast. Sandra Bullock is as suave as George Clooney before her; Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”) is delectably loathsome as Met Gala-hostess Daphne Kluger; the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter (“55 Steps”) and a wildly underused Mindy Kaling (“A Wrinkle in Time”) provide some much-needed comic relief; and Rihanna’s (“Battleship”) presence speaks for itself. Props also go to costume designer Sarah Edwards, who turned an otherwise visually unimaginative film into a glittery confection of haute couture.
To its credit, “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t pretend to be more important than it is. Because women-led blockbusters are relatively few and far between, we have a tendency to treat each one as evidence for or against women’s rights to work in film at all (conversely, no one has ever watched “The Room” and decided that all men should be banned from making movies).
It’s a ridiculous standard to hold any single movie up to, and “Ocean’s 8” approaches it with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. As Ocean tells her team pre-heist, “Somewhere out there lying in bed is an eight-year-old girl dreaming of being a criminal. Do this for her.”
In a society where the fight for gender equality is played out, perhaps more significantly than anywhere else, in pop culture, “Ocean’s 8” is deeply fun and refreshingly unimportant. After all, men have been starring in unimportant movies for decades: It’s time for women to take their turn.