OCEAN’S 8 Review: A Cotton Candy Confection
Do you know that feeling of watching the trailer for a film, knowing exactly what to expect out of that film, then watching that same film without any sense of surprise or subversion, but instead of feeling disappointed by that feeling you're left satisfied that you got exactly what you paid for? That's exactly the feeling of watching Ocean's 8: it's a light, breezy heist flick that doesn't make any pretense of appealing to a higher sensibility than watching a bunch of charismatic presences carry a film from title cards to closing credits. And it works, not in spite of its shallow nature but because it doesn't aspire to higher heights than it needs to, recognizing its base appeal and leaning so heavily into it that one can't help but smile along.
After being released from prison, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny Ocean's sister and our ostensible tie back to Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy, falls back on old habits and decides to plan a heist, the target being a diamond necklace valued at $150 million dollars that she plans to steal while it is worn at the Met Gala. With the help of her partner-in-crime Lou (a fabulously punky Cate Blanchett), Debbie assembles the perfect crew to pull off this heist: Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweler with the skills to deconstruct a necklace under pressure; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a fence who is torn between her life as a suburban mom and a life of crime; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket perhaps a bit too driven in her abilities; Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacker with a penchant for smoking blunts and messing with her cohorts; and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a down on her luck fashion designer who pulls in the ditzy celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to be their unwitting carrier from which they can swipe the jewels.
This is little more than a women-doing-a-job movie, with the standard beats of a heist film playing out pretty much how you would expect them. We watch the planning, then we see the execution, and then as the investigation plays out it's revealed that there was more going on than we as the audience were led to believe and it allows our criminal heroes to get away into the sunset. And it's all functional, if not exactly inspired. But what pulls you into this film is the characters. Yes, everyone is playing heavily to type here, with Blanchett pulling off that hypnotic half-lidded stare she does, Carter playing into her Burton-esque neurotic persona, and Hathaway having a ball playing the vapid dunce who's there to look pretty. But it's in watching these personalities bounce off one another that makes the film fun. Awkwafina gets plenty of moments to react with incredulity toward the so-called sophistication of her associates with matter-of-fact street wisdom, and Rihanna's aloofness kills it, especially when the hardness of her character's exterior eventually breaks down as Nine Ball's family life gives her character an added bit of dimension. And this is all compiled with snappy, fast-paced editing that keeps the pace brisk and fun, not allowing you to pause long enough to realize that shallow quantity is prevailing over depth of quality.
But that shallowness does keep the film from achieving any great heights, particularly in how matter-of-fact the plot is in its construction. Director/co-writer Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch know they're going through the motions here and that the mechanics of the heist aren't really the draw, but there could have been a bit more effort put into how hiccups in the plan are dealt with on the fly. Just about every issue the team faces is solved within about five minutes of screentime, which doesn't exactly make for good tension or any sense of stakes in a film where the whole thrust of the drama is whether or not they will be able to pull off this job. It also doesn't help that the limpest performance of all is Bullock's, whose motivation of revenge against a former lover seems to exist only to give the film a central character arc and isn't nearly as compelling as the eccentric characters she surrounds herself with.
Even so, Ocean's 8 is a fun time at the movies. It's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, made mostly of air but held together with such sweetness that it goes down easy. You aren't likely to remember much of the experience later, and it certainly isn't enriching in the moment, but it's a fun and colorful treat perfect for summer diversion.