Ocean’s 8

If you read my reviews of Rogue One or Spectre, you can probably guess how I feel about the latest heist flick from the Ocean’s franchise. It’s called Ocean’s 8, the principal cast is entirely female, and there are eight of them. Eight. For those counting, that’s the same number of women who were cast in an entire Star Wars movie (and most of those were extras seen on screen for just a few seconds).

Now, I’m obviously not a film critic. I’m really not that hard to impress when it comes to movies. My criteria is basically ‘did I have a good time?’ and ‘was I distracted by any bullshit?’ Ocean’s 8 passes both of these tests with absolutely flying colours, and I fully advise you to go and see it. Like, yesterday.

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The cast is incredible, and seeing eight women star in the same movie is kind of a rare treat. I know I talk a lot about the general lack of nuanced, interesting female characters that aren’t just sex objects for the male characters, but the reason I bang on about it so much is that robust representation is so crucial to my enjoyment of movies.1 I’m not saying that you need to see yourself represented in a film in order to enjoy it (I enjoy Bee Movie and I’m not a Bumble Bee), but I don’t enjoy paying for and sitting through two hours of a film which implies that I (along with my entire gender), am worthless, or stupid, or uninteresting, and which blithely discounts my own lived experience in favour of ‘a middle-aged white man’s idea of what [women] should be’.2

These things are broadly gendered, in that I’m probably in the majority as a woman who is bored of rarely seeing aspirational or even believable female characters on screen, and can’t really get on board with the Bond-style hero cliché who sees his fast car as an extension of his pe- er, personality. In Ocean’s 8 we see a large principal cast of characters who are female, yes, but are also diverse and nuanced with small human details which make them a thousand times more believable and interesting than a silent sex symbol or a macho cliché. If you don’t recognise yourself in this film you’ll recognise your mum, your sister, your boss. You’ll be able to take one look at the way Sandra Bullock puts on her mascara, or at Cate Blanchett sliding a plate of food in front of the engrossed Rihanna (she’s busy hacking but we all gotta eat, right?), and you’ll know more about their personalities and back stories than a two hour movie could ever tell you.

The film has even been described as ‘an in joke only women will get’, and I think this is partially true. As the author of this piece for The Pool points out, ‘it’s just bloody lovely to watch multiple women interacting on screen together.’ And it is. It’s fun. Watching women being cool and good at stuff for two hours is kind of cathartic after a day of being mansplained and manspreaded at. To be honest it’s pretty satisfying to see Sandra Bullock (as Debbie Ocean) using the social fear of ‘being rude’ – which is so often relied upon by men to push boundaries and make women uncomfortable — to delay security guards and get what she wants. Everything Rihanna does is great. Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina are funny as hell. Anne Hathaway (as Daphne Kluger) on the verge of a panic attack because, looking at herself in her couture gown, she feels she ‘looks huge,’ is both funny and bittersweet, because we’ve all been there. But you don’t have to be a woman to find this kind of stuff hilarious – there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and honestly this is a film that I think anybody can revel in. Unless you’re the kind of guy that ‘just doesn’t find women funny’, in which case I ‘just couldn’t care less’ if you enjoy it or not.

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Sandra Bullock putting on her mascara right before the heist is cinematic genius, as far as I’m concerned. She pumps the mascara wand up and down a few times, and then takes it out and wipes the excess off once, twice, three times, on the edge of the tube. That gesture tells me, and anybody else vaguely familiar with mascara, that Debbie Ocean is the kind of woman who stopped reading Cosmo (or at least, stopped abiding by their ‘top tips’) some time back in 2007, and has not given a single fuck since then. It’s clever and simple and it speaks to universal truths which are often overlooked in movies because they are ‘girl stuff’ – which is too often code for ‘frivolous and silly and unimportant’.

Oh, and while we’re talking about ‘girl stuff’, can we talk about how rare it is to actually see women in films doing everyday tasks like, you know, eating? Sure, it would be a bit boring if we had to watch Leia Organa eat her breakfast, but I hardly ever see women eating or painting their nails or brushing their hair on screen unless it’s meant to show how ‘exotic’, high maintenance, sexy or dumb they are (to, in their relationships with, for and compared to, men).

According to the movies we watch, women rarely feed or clothe themselves unless there’s a man nearby they’d like to seduce. Sitting through a film with such a glaring inaccuracy is far more infuriating to me than any plot hole could be (and Ocean’s 8 certainly has its fair share of plot holes).

On the rare occasion ‘girl stuff’ is allowed to surface in a non-seductive context, the woman must go to great lengths to demonstrate that, yes, she’s putting on mascara but don’t worry, she’s not frivolous or silly or vain, (not like those other girls!), this mascara is actually a symbol of how she’s a fierce warrior! Honestly, I’m sick to death of women needing to be ‘badass’ and ‘kickass’ and ‘no nonsense’ in order to be seen as ‘the right kind’ of women. It’s not enough to get things done or make good decisions – in order to justify their feminism, ambition and confidence, women have to prove themselves as ‘one of the guys’, and in so doing distance themselves from any kind of ‘girlyness’, and from their peers and friends in the process. 3  4

Sandra Bullock puts on her mascara (albeit badly – Cosmo is quite clear that you should never pump the mascara wand up and down inside the tube because it dries out the product) because she’s going to work. It is not a gesture which denies or excuses (or glorifies) the suggestion of ‘femininity’ – it’s just a shot of a woman getting ready. It’s a bit depressing to admit it, but that in itself is a pretty rare and exciting thing to see on film.

I got a massive kick out of watching this incredible cast wear gorgeous dresses and get the job done, without the two things having to be inextricably linked. Ocean’s 8 feels like a breath of fresh air and a timely reminder that women are pretty bloody fantastic. That being said, it’s not a feminist film or a ‘gender-flip’ of the old Ocean’s flicks, it’s just a really good heist movie with a stellar cast, made even more enjoyable by some clever comedy, engaging, almost irresistible characters, and a distinct lack of bullshit. Which, let’s be honest, is something we could all do with just a bit less of nowadays.

PV x

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[1] As a young, white woman I do see myself represented everywhere. Even if the characters aren’t always particularly nuanced, I see versions of myself in film and on TV all the time. For a person of colour (or a disabled person, or a trans person, or somebody that doesn’t fit into particular ideals of beauty/ femininity etc…) this representation is drastically reduced, and even more desperately needed. Ocean’s 8 has a very diverse principal cast, but the two main characters are still white women.

[2] Actress Ella Purnell in a recent interview published in the Evening Standard (13.07.18)

[3] More on this in this New Statesman article on the trend for ‘rebel women’ in publishing.

[4] In fact, we rarely see meaningful female relationships of any kind represented on screen (largely because it is so rare to see such a large group of women in the same film), and in films where there are two female characters that interact with each other, they are far more likely to be rivals – often vying for the attention of a male character.

Images: Warner Bros

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