There’s a novel by French novelist Honore de Balzac called “The Woman of Thirty.” It’s a depressive story of French society in the first half of the nineteenth century. A woman finds more ruin than happiness in marriage, and dies of a heart attack after suffering much misery. “Ocean’s 8,” while more boring than sad, is like it. It’s also about society failing women, although in Hollywood there’s a mandatory happy ending.
Of course, things have changed. In twenty-first-century movie America, only one of the protagonists is married, and she seems tired of her family and wants a career instead. So viewers encounter eight lonely women who briefly look for feminine solidarity in a robbery before they go back to their loneliness. Viewers don’t really get attached to these women, and it’s just as well, because they’re not in it for sisterhood or whatever. They just assume life has just treated them unjustly, so they will do justice for themselves instead.
The story starts with Sandra Bullock’s parole hearing, in which she pretends to be contrite and reformed. She puts up with the humiliation to secure her freedom, whereupon it quickly emerges she’s been running a smuggling ring in jail and freedom’s not going to stop her from running the business. This natural-born criminal, now showing her full “strong, independent woman” face, has much bigger plans: to get back to her one and only friend, recruit five other women who have useful skills for a too-complicated heist, and steal a necklace worth $150 million.
We’re Bored, So We Rob People
The heist is supposed to take place at the Met Gala. It’s an opportunity for cameos by fading celebrities, and maybe a chance to criticize celebrity worship from the point of view of women who are invisible in American society. But this too is wasted. We get neither wit nor thrills. The writing doesn’t even try to wow the audience. You just see Bullock bump into some yesteryear supermodel on the red carpet. At every point in the movie, the combination of star power, talent, tiredly thumbing noses at the patriarchy, and a daring robbery underwhelms.
What’s worse, the ending shows what the women do with their ill-gotten gains. It’s as pathetic as winning the lottery. The one who seems happiest seems unaffected by wealth. She takes control of her life by moving from actress to director. Good for her, I guess. Really, none do anything that requires wealth. It turns out not even our revolutionary heroines have imaginations any different to what you’d see on Instagram. This ending turns angry women into “Eat, Pray, Love” faster than Xanax does!
So this remake of a very successful remake franchise (of an old Rat Pack heist movie) is only a heist movie because it feels like a ripoff. The only tension is disbelief that so much talent could be wasted so foolishly and ignorantly. Somehow, the movie cannot decide whether the women really need this money and adventure, or it’s just that they’re bored. Either way, it cannot decide what might make them happy.
The story is crippled by a stupid unwillingness to show in what ways these women are needy and how they might help each other. Supposedly, they have to break the law to affirm their independence, but it’s such a depressingly mundane independence you get a sense they’d probably be happy with some lavish welfare scheme.
The Subliminal Message: Women Without Men Are Boring
The structure of the story is also crippled. The only really interesting part, pulling off the heist, is separated clumsily in two sequences, one for the event of the heist, the other for explaining how it worked out. It’s not the first movie to try this, but the upshot is that instead of a heist, you’re just watching a woman run off to hug a toilet and then a few switcheroos.
Much later, you get some explanations that could have made for interesting movie-making at the right place and time, but by the end, they only make you realize you didn’t care how they did it in the first place. There’s no magic.
This is impossible to explain. Some of these women are remarkably beautiful. We’re talking Anne Hathaway and Cate Blanchett! There’s plenty of comic talent, too, between Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sandra Bullock. Rihanna is also full of charm, but for some mysterious reasons, she fails every time she tries to make it in Hollywood. (Remember “Battleship”?)
The movie wastes all this beauty in an attempt to prove the foolish thing we hear these days, that women dress up for each other and not for men. That is, that women don’t need men. Well, maybe they do—and, what’s more, some man better than the one writing and directing.
Maybe he is the problem. He does not offer the women material, and they don’t seem to mind. The moral drive of the story, such as it is, would be revenge. Bullock was framed by a bad man whom she now wants to pay back in kind. The story does precious little to show Bullock’s suffering, anger, need for vengeance, or really the importance of the injustice she suffered.
The movie is an attempt to criticize society and prove women can be strong, but it fails to say at what women should be strong—except rejecting (or failing at) marriage, love, and children. It signals repeatedly that it wants to say, women, unlike men, are subtle. But they’re just boring, instead.
Bullock says the heist should work because they’re underestimated and invisible. It’s using the arrogance of the patriarchy against itself. Instead, they use the chivalry of men who will not chase a woman into a toilet. In a good movie, that might suggest feminine wiles, a shamelessness that’s clever, if immoral. Here, it just proves they’re not revolutionaries against tyrannical men: They’re just spoiled brats.
‘Ocean’s 8’ Doesn’t Fail for Lack of Talent
Although the sacred rage for equality and quotas would have required 11 actresses of various degrees of fame, the production had to settle for eight. Sure, they cannot be as famous or wealthy as the stars of the “Ocean’s 11” franchise, but they have more awards and nominations.
Three have won Oscars, a fourth was nominated, a fifth was nominated for a Golden Globe, a sixth has many Emmy nominations in TV, and a seventh has many Grammy nominations and wins for music. Compared with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon, and this appears to be the true Hollywood double standard. The men have success, but not awards; the women have awards, but not the movie success that once made stars, whatever their beauty and talent.
Still, Blanchett is lovely to watch. Hathaway is the only real comic presence—she plays a vapid actress who turns out to have a wicked intelligence and sense of fun. Maybe she should have been the star of the show, with more physical comedy, more slapstick, and some daring comic routines. Her over-the-top performance is the only thing that gives the movie life.
Bonham-Carter, as a Scottish-accented designer whose career is collapsing, has tragi-comic moments that could have inspired a good and unusual characterization. The other roles have neither personality nor purpose. The hilarious problem of the movie is that if any of these stars had to rely on this movie to make them famous, they’d be eternally stuck in anonymity.
In a rare attempt at humor, Bullock gives a pep talk to the effect that girls the world over might take inspiration from these women and turn criminal. I fear that not only is that not the case, but girls who see this movie would not even be inspired to become actresses,. Wouldn’t that be a terrible loss.