If a viewer can sniff the cash-grab on a film’s basic premise, it might be a good idea to put some distance between the film itself and anything resembling naked greed. This is obviously impossible when the stakes are an 8-figure payday for thieves, but the amount of lifestyle porn and brand lust present here is staggering. Debbie’s heist is planned around the Met Gala, the equivalent of a royal ball in Louis XIV’s court in how Ross ogles over the decadence on display. The fashion-centric event requires the utterance of label names ad nauseum. Why is it any more acceptable for a film to hawk Dolce & Gabbana than some soda or car? It’s gross when James Bond covers himself in luxury, and it’s gross here, too. The film revels in wealth in a way that earlier Ocean’s films didn’t. This was helped by mostly being set in grubby, grasping Vegas as opposed to cultural mecca New York, but it’s a choice for the sequel to be set there. It’s wholly possible that this is simply a gender difference lost on me, a person comfortable in jeans and t-shirts, but what does it say about Ocean’s 8 if it thinks viewers, specifically women, want to go to a film and be snowed by luxury instead of the things people typically go to the theaters for? Shouldn’t the kind of viewers open to self-congratulatory female casting also reject the raw aristocratic privilege on display?
Despite the near-plagiarism by Ross and the ickiness of how the film grovels at the altar of obscenely expensive couture, Ocean’s 8 does often reach the level of acceptable entertainment. The aforementioned cast shares Oscars, Emmys, and several other awards between them, and will likely add more to the list before their careers are done. Surrounding Bullock are superlative all-timers like Cate Blanchett, critical darlings like Sarah Paulson, stars like Anne Hathaway, and up-and-comers like Awkwafina, plus Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Helena Bonham Carter. None are overshadowed, though it’s shockingly Blanchett in the Brad Pitt-esque role who makes the least impression outside of her dozens of costume changes. Bullock is given the opportunity to be more than a suave master who can see every possible turn, getting some farcical laughs that show off her comedic talents. Awkwafina is always a fun presence, but it’s Hathaway who really stretches her legs here, leaning into her unfair public persona of an insecure ingenue who needs a lot of reinforcement in spite of her considerable station. She plays the mark that Debbie’s team is targeting, a bubble-headed star who wears a priceless piece of jewelry to the Met Gala, and she is plainly having a blast getting to skewer herself and her image.
Every time Ocean’s 8 puts its team onscreen, separately or together, one can’t help but think of how much this represents a missed opportunity. The film admires these people too much, forgetting along the way that they’re thieves. With the possible exceptions of Carter’s flighty failed designer and Paulson’s uptight suburbanite, the characters’ only flaws are that they don’t have enough money to have closets full of expensive dresses and shoes. They’re doing well enough to afford several items, but they don’t have a giant cubby that can hold dozens of thousand dollar shoes, a display of which is prominently featured in one scene. Further distinguishing this from a typical film about criminals, they not only achieve their goals, but go well beyond them, succeeding beyond what they expected and in turn joining the richest of the rich whom the film so idolizes. Satirical Anne Hathaway, while much appreciated, is only going to make up for so much. Ocean’s 8, probably to be followed by Ocean’s 9 and 10, is a paean to inequality, a masturbatory ode to wearing a dress once and then banishing it to the closet forever instead of wearing it again like a poor. C-