Film Review: ‘Ocean’s 8’ is flawed but fun, and that’s enough for me

Oceans 8
Courtesy of Deluxe Cinemas

Hollywood is more or less built on the foundation of franchises. So, it was probably inevitable that we would circle back and end up with something like “Ocean’s 8,” a sequel/spinoff of the “Ocean’s” trilogy. My interest in the movie was peaked not by its connection to its predecessors, but by the prospect of having an all-female cast pull off a heist. While the story certainly doesn’t break new ground, it’s still a fun watch.

Directed by Gary Ross, this installment follows Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the estranged sister of Danny Ocean who gets placed on parole after spending over five years in a women’s prison. She wastes no time in jumping back into the business her family is notorious for — pulling heists. She enlists the help of her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), and they assemble a team of women to steal a necklace worth $150 million, which actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) will be wearing at the annual Met Gala.

Let’s get this out of the way first: from a story perspective, “Ocean’s 8” is pretty lackluster. The pacing is fairly leading up to the actual heist, and along the way, Debbie and Co. encounter very little conflict. Given the team’s objectively sloppy execution, there are probably 10 or more different points where they should have been caught. Although there are a couple interesting twists, it doesn’t hide the fact that the stakes feel pretty low. At an even more basic level though, the heist itself lacks the grandeur one may expect from an “Ocean’s” movie.

“But Sam!” you may cry out, “What’s so fun about a generic story with no stakes?” Good question, dear reader. I’ve always believed that the most important part of a film is the story. However, the only thing that can override that for me is a good cast of characters. The cast has just enough charm to outweigh the story’s pitfalls.

Bullock strikes all the right cords as Debbie Ocean. From the opening scenes — which is more or less a beat for beat reimagining of the opening to “Ocean’s Eleven” — Bullock is smooth, witty and charming. It’s not hard to see how Debbie fits into the Ocean family. Blanchett is also as good as ever, but the real scene-stealer is Hathaway. Her character Daphne is a self-absorbed air-head of an actress, and Hathaway plays up these traits to their full potential without ever coming across as annoying. In real life, I think Hathaway is somewhat unfairly pegged as fake or uptight, so the fact that she lets loose here and perhaps even subverts some expectations makes her scenes that much better. These leading ladies are accompanied by the likes of Rihanna, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, and Sarah Paulson, all of whom round out the group with fun personalities and skill-sets of their own. The story they’re in is pretty forgettable, but I would watch another movie with this cast in a second.

Beyond that, though, I think the real reason I walked out of “Ocean’s 8” enjoying it is because — for all its faults — the movie solves a major problem I had with “Ocean’s Eleven”: it includes three-dimensional female characters. In “Ocean’s Eleven,” Julia Roberts’ Tess is the only female character of note, and she doesn’t even appear until 44 minutes into the movie. Even then, she only serves as a romantic interest for Danny Ocean. In contrast, Debbie makes it a point to recruit all women onto her team. We need more movies like that. While “Ocean’s 8” isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction where representation is concerned.

Whether or not you should see this movie really depends on what you’re looking to get out of it as a moviegoer. At its core, “Ocean’s 8” is about a group of women who hang out and plan a heist. That was enough for me, but if you you’re looking for a gripping heist movie with unexpected twists and turns, this may not be for you. However, if you’re looking for a fun movie where you can shut your brain off and just enjoy, I think you’ll get your money’s worth.

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