Ocean’s 8 may not surpass male predecessors, but its sexist media coverage is unwarranted



Lilia Sebouai reviews the gender flipped heist movie and reports on the interactions between the diverse, star studded, female cast and the largely white male film critics.

Five years, eight months, twelve days and counting – that’s how long Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has been devising the biggest jewellery heist in history. Ocean is the estranged sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, and grand theft clearly runs in their blood.

The film begins with Ocean’s release from a five-year stint in prison, following a plea that all she wants is a normal life in the outside world, a completely different existence to her previous life as a con. Yet within minutes she has reunited with her old partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and divulged her plan to infiltrate the annual MET Gala, the most exclusive New York party of the year. The heist hinges on her plot to steal a legendary Cartier necklace from the neck of A-list movie star, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), weighing more than six pounds and worth $150 million of unique diamonds, and plant the blame on her art dealer ex-boyfriend.

Yet a right-hand woman isn’t enough to carry off such a mass scandal, so they begin to assemble a team of highly skilled experts. Together they rally a pot-smoking hacker known as Nine Ball (Rihanna), an Irish tax-evading fashion designer comically described as ‘big in the 90s – big Edwardian collars’ (Helena Bonham Carter), a master street pickpocket (Awkwafina), a one-of-a-kind jeweller (Mindy Kaling) and a thieving suburban housewife (Sarah Paulson). Even with the star-studded ensemble, the film doesn’t capture the cool and casual vibe that was conjured so effortlessly by Steven Soderbergh (writer and director of the original Ocean’s trilogy).

Everyone seems to be defined by their skill rather than their character and despite the comical nature of the established actresses, there is a gaping lack of quick wit that was key in allowing the earlier films to flow so seamlessly. Another shortcoming is that while the razzle-dazzle of the MET Gala is undeniably captured with the glamorous theme of ‘European Royalty’, the endless ensue of celebrity cameos seems excessive and only serves to cheapen the film’s repute. It showcases the reality stars Kim Kardashian West, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, which makes the red carpet scenes feel like a livestream from E!Online. I rolled my eyes when even James Corden, a confusing and increasing regularity in Hollywood films, appeared in a cameo as an insurance fraud investigator.

There is a gaping lack of quick wit that was key in allowing the earlier films to flow so seamlessly

Ocean’s 8 has received generally disappointing reviews, criticised as slow-paced and predictable, but was such a sexist backlash always going to be inevitable? Take a look at the gender-flipped remake Ghostbusters (2016) for instance. The film faced scathing reviews, yet not because it was particularly bad or humourless, but due to the misogynistic and archaic attitudes that still exists in Hollywood towards a female dominated film. A similar negative taint can be seen in the reception of Ocean’s 8, as it cannot be disputed that the team of women successfully pull off a mass scale heist, while simultaneously never failing to deliver a dazzling spectacle of glitz and glamour. So unless men somehow possess an innate flair for stealth and plotting that couldn’t possibly be matched by women, then a pre-ordained shortcoming cannot be overlooked.

However, I am also guilty of accepting Hollywood defined archetypes, as when I picture the star of a heist film, the immediate image that comes to mind is a James Bond figure in a black-tie ensemble that carries a ‘suave’ air of ‘debonair.’ Yet the issue with both adjectives is that they are solely reserved to describe a man, as if grace and cunning are traits that can only be possessed by the male gender.

Mindy Kaling, one of the stars of the film, referred to the dominance of white male reviewers in the critic world as ‘unfair’, arguing that ‘if I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful, so there is obviously an audience out there who want to watch things like Ocean’s 8.’ Perhaps the film has been met with such hostility because there isn’t an existing female heist archetype that can be simply stepped into. It is the making of this film itself that is actively creating one within the film industry.

The stars of the film also commented on the false rumours fabricated by tabloids, as every member of the A-list cast received almost identical accusations of being difficult to work with and causing problems on set. Sandra Bullock commented: 'Everyone wants us to be ripping each other’s weaves out.' The reboot that tabloids are really longing for is another What Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) fiasco, where the decades long rivalry between Hollywood royalties Bette Davis and Joan Crawford finally came to a head in 1962. Helena Bonham Carter pointed out that 'It’s such an old cliché that women can’t get on collectively.'

The film faced scathing reviews, yet not because it was particularly bad or humourless, but due to the misogynistic and archaic attitudes that still exists in Hollywood towards a female dominated film

Although the plot follows the mould of a heist and has a somewhat satisfying twist at the end, the film does ultimately fall short of its predecessors. The ending merely ties together the loose ends in a sort of mathematical and straight forward way, failing to leave my head-spinning with stupefied surprise as one hopes for. Instead, the film seems more like a thriller rather than a crime film, lacking the multiple intertwining layers of romance, screwball comedy, and ingenious robbery that existed under Soderbergh’s directorship.

Gary Ross’ gender-inverted take on the early noughties crime trilogy is certainly full of glitz and glamour, but the sequel is more of a fitting testament to the original crime trilogy rather than a self-standing enigma of a heist film.

Featured Image: Twitter / @oceans8movie

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