By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
How do you earn $150 million in one night? Gather your best, most talented, and most diverse group of gal pals together and steal a diamond necklace, duh.
“Ocean’s 8” is a continuation or spin-off of the Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” franchise. This latest installment centers around Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the younger sister of Danny Ocean (who does not appear in this installment, though he does get mentioned quite a bit).
At the beginning of the movie, Debbie is leaving prison after a five year, eight month stint due to a fraud scheme she was framed for by her ex, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage).
Debbie doesn’t even wait two seconds before she reverts back to a life of white collar crime. She enlists the help of her ride or die partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and together, they plan to steal the Toussaint, a $150 million diamond necklace.
They enlist the talents of Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jewelry expert; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a profiteer; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket; Nine Ball/Leslie (Rihanna), a tech genius; and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter). Their plan is to steal the necklace at New York’s annual, star-studded Met Gala, while the necklace is worn by Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), a celebrity and actor.
I found this film to be really glamorous and fun to look at. The visual difference, clothing-wise, between the male franchise and this movie is that the wardrobe is stunning and not dull as hell. As great as George Clooney looks wearing a tux, it’s still just a tux. In “Ocean’s 8,” there are just so many gorgeous gowns, so many awesome pant suits, so many different made up faces, and a lot of hairstyles.
I really appreciate this because a lot of female heist movies in the past lack this sense of affluence and luxury. They have typically been about down on their luck women who steal money out of desperation or because of some misplaced altruism — for example, see the Queen Latifah-led film, “Set it Off,” a classic. Also, see the Queen Latifah-led film, “Mad Money,” which is not good at all.
“Ocean’s 8” deviates from that well-worn formula. The stakes don’t feel all that grave or urgent — and that’s great because I think we’re at the point where we don’t need our fictional female anti-heroes to have deeply “feminine” motives in order to be driven to a life of crime. Sometimes people become white collar criminals because it’s fun and you get to hang out with your friends all day.
Amita (Kaling) signs up for the heist because she doesn’t want to live with her mom anymore. Tammy (Paulson) participates because she’s just really great at her “job,” and she is a little bored of her suburban life.
While I found the low-stakes motivation in characterizations to be super charming, the low-stakes movie plot was bothersome. At no point in the film did I worry that these women were going to get caught. I was never worried that they were going to jail. I wasn’t worried that friendships were going to get ripped apart and ruined forever due to infighting.
As pleasant as the movie was to watch, the movie lacked drama and tension.
The original “Ocean’s” trilogy was directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, who is really great at giving his films a sense of place and a visual style that feels like its own character.
“Ocean’s 8” was directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit, “The Hunger Games”), and while really fun to look at, the beauty was largely in costuming. The film kind of felt perfunctory and almost routine under Ross’ direction.
There are some really beautiful and iconic scenes from “Ocean’s 11” that was missing in “Ocean’s 8.”
Like, where was the moment that was like the dancing water show in front of the Bellagio as Clair de Lune swelled in the background? “Ocean’s 8” felt like it lacked iconic moments. (But maybe I am dumb and wrong and 12 years from now, we will remember the moment all the women sat together on a New York City train as . . . a song played in the background.)
Now the bright, Asian-y bits. Awkwafina, a New York City-based rapper who is Chinese American and Korean American, probably had the least name-recognition going into this movie, yet she held her own very well and had great screen presence. She was comic relief and definitely defied model minority stereotypes. No Asian parent dreams of having their Asian daughter grow up to be a really amazing pickpocket. But now, maybe after seeing Awkwafina’s character lift watches seemingly without effort and walk away with loads of cash money — maybe Asian parents will expand their definitions of success.
Toward the beginning of the film, we see Kaling drop a fair bit of Hindi, which was cool and novel to see. Kaling doesn’t speak Hindi and had to learn the lines for this role. Beyond that, I found Kaling’s role to be fairly low-key, but still sweet.
“Ocean’s 8” debuted number one at the box office, earning $41.5 million its first three days in theaters. This opening exceeds all of the preceding “Ocean’s” films (though it’s a little hard to compare opening weekend numbers, due to inflation and also the changing ways we absorb media aka what I’m calling the “Netflix effect”).
According to Box Office Mojo, 69 percent of “Ocean’s 8” opening weekend watchers were women. This is not really exceptionally novel though. Female-led movies have been profitable for years, and perhaps executives are finally paying more attention to the numbers.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.