Movies, Reviews

RTF Film Review: ‘Vanessa Says OCEAN’S 8 Is A (Designer) Mixed Bag’

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In Ocean’s 8, we’re introduced to Debbie Ocean, the kid sister of the late Danny Ocean, played with the same depth, charm and pizazz that you love about Sandra Bullock. Wait a minute, Danny Ocean is dead? Apparently so. And the film offers no real explanation except his tombstone as proof. More on that later. After spending 5 years, 8 months, 12 days and counting in jail for getting mixed up in a bad double cross by an ex-lover, Debbie’s released and sets out to pull off one of the biggest heists in history: stealing a $150 million dollar diamond necklace at only the most prestigious party of the year, The MET Gala. Surely a heist that would make her brother proud.

With this plan she’s ran in her head everyday for half a decade, Debbie and her partner in crime, Lou, played beautifully by Cate Blanchett, set out to assemble the ultimate team. We have an expert jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a street hustler and pocket thief (Awkwafina), a retired con-artist housewife (Sarah Paulson), a pot-smoking hacker (Rihanna), a highly anxious designer (Helena Bonham Carter), and a self-absorbed leading lady (Anne Hathaway) to pull this heist off. Here’s where the best parts of the movie really come in.

It is a character movie, a heist movie and surprisingly, a buddy comedy all in one. Debbie and Lou assemble a team of women with skills unparalleled to any other and she chooses an all female crew. Why? Besides it just being a gender-flipping Hollywood gimmick for the Oceans franchise. Well, there’s a line in the film where Debbie explains to her team, “a him gets noticed […] a her gets ignored. For once, we want to be ignored.” And also, there’s another moment in the film where in a mirror pep-talk, Bullock’s character says she’s doing this for all the eight-year old girls out there who dream of becoming a criminal one day. It got some laughs for the absurdity of it all.

The cast of women delighted me. I fawned over Anne Hathaway’s brilliant performance, shocked that she had quit acting for a year due to cyber trolls because she’s sooo good. Rihanna surprised me too, holding her own and having some comical moments. The big, big surprise and crowd favorite of them all was Queens rapper, Awkwafina, who stole every single scene she was in. Awkwafina was active, fun, playful and a Queens girl after my own heart. She brought parts of the movie alive and moving when at times, I was looking for a heartbeat. Also, James Corden delivered a fun, comedic performance as an insurance fraud investigator. I could clearly perhaps pinpoint areas where he improvised super funny lines.

I believe it was the great caliber of the actors that prevented this ship from sinking. I really enjoyed the on-screen chemistry that Bullock and Blanchett shared. Master meets Master.  Even though the film itself isn’t one of those high-caliber pruned for the Academy Awards films, you do get the sense that we are watching two giants playing make-belief with each other and that made my thespian heart sing. All the actors made the sometimes rather dull and banal dialogue work for them in their own way.

Which brings us to where I thought the movie could have improved: first in the overall story and how it moved forward and then let’s chat about the overly glammed up Debbie Ocean and Co. Actually let’s talk about that first. Right off the bat, in the first scene of the film, we are hit with a close-up of Bullock in jail at her parole hearing. Miss Bullock is sporting freshly highlighted, beachy waves and a whole full face of makeup. WHAT? She’s been in jail for over 5 years. She looked perfect. Now, I want to know. Who made that decision? I hated that decision. I did not totally mind the makeup and dress in the other scenes of the movie because I can believe it I guess, although you can tell they gave the wardrobe department monnneeeyyyy for all those beautiful outfits. It was outrageous.

Another outrageous part of the film were the cameos of celebrities in this movie! I think hands down the world record for most cameos by famous celebrities in a single film ever? I also wondered why they spent screen time on that? I saw The Kardashians several times on-screen when they were not integral to the story AT ALL.  If Anne Hathaway, a real actress, played a fake celebrity actress – why couldn’t they fill the world with other made up celebrities?

Ocean’s 8 is directed by Gary Ross and he also co-wrote the screenplay with a fairly new screenwriter, Olivia Milch. Ross is a known for movies like The Hunger Games and Seabiscuit. Seeing his previous credits, I do find that the tone of Ocean’s 8 differs from what I’ve previously seen of his. His female characters in this movie lived on the surface for the most part, they were archetypes of different women we see in film. In the writing and story of how this heist is going to get pulled off, there are a lot of loopholes and real life facts glossed over. So in that department, you need to activate your suspension of disbelief. Hit that button hard before you step into the theater and double check it works. A lot of the moments Debbie gets away with cons however small or big are somewhat far-fetched. I get it though, it’s a movie but you’ve been told.

What makes a heist film great is that you are discovering and unfolding the puzzle as you watch. The story moves along a little too choppily for me. I wished for the dissemination of information to come in longer scenes smartly woven between characters, place and story. Instead, they came about in piecemeal, in some very short scenes where about 3-4 words or sentences were spoken to pass along the message. Maybe I’m expecting too much?

There were some nice surprises and throwbacks to the previous films. As a big fan of the franchise, I appreciated those touches of detail. Which brings us back to Danny Ocean and the way the film treated his death. First, there was barely an explanation. Second, the year of death on his tombstone read 2018, which means he must’ve died fairly recently to Debbie’s release this same year. Yet, she showed no real tears or a sister going through the grief of a brother’s death. This could either be a clue or not but perhaps Debbie knows Danny isn’t really dead. I almost expected him to pop-up in one of the scenes, where I was sure he would show up. However, no sight of Danny. And also, no sight of a sequel. The movie ends with what might be a slight chance of a part 2 but nothing solid or set in (ahem) a tombstone.

Overall, I was thrilled with a big, diverse, female cast and grateful to see Asian-American actresses like Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina get roles and represent  in a big franchise like this. You go, girls!

GRADE: B

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Vanessa Lee Bontea

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