Let’s get this out of the way first: Ocean’s 8 is just about perfect. Thanks to Gary Ross’s smooth direction and even smoother script (co-written by Olivia Milch), the transition from Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films of the early 2000s goes down easier than you might think with a heist that is thrilling in its simplicity and a cast that is truly at the top of its game.
Sandra Bullock at her coolest. Cate Blanchett at her hottest. Anne Hathaway, self-aware and cunning and hilarious. Awkwafina, oddly refreshing and refreshingly odd. Mindy Kaling, savvy and quick, and Sarah Paulson, relatable and in control. Helena Bonham-Carter, finally free from Tim Burton and pleasantly kooky once more.
And Rihanna? RIHANNA. Always and forever Rihanna.
This movie, supremely fun and amazingly well-dressed by costume designer Sarah Edwards, is everything you could want and more from a summer movie. It’s certainly better than the previous Ocean’s movies, which get progressively more boring with every installment and never once do their female characters (all three of them) justice. But even if that wasn’t enough to convince you, what I liked most about Ocean’s 8 is that it goes pretty deep without ever seeming like it’s anything but popcorn fare.
Without giving too much away, the plot of Ocean’s 8 circles around a sphere of femininity that is often dismissed out of hand: fashion. There are a lot of historical and academic reasons for this (and if you truly want to scar yourself, I recommend going down a Wikipedia hole on corsets), but generally speaking, fashion is constantly weaponized to make women (and men!) feel bad about themselves, either because they don’t look like a size-zero model or because actively caring about how they look makes them vain and superficial.
There’s not much of a middle ground between the two extremes, and it doesn’t help that the fashion industry, with its non-standard sizes and tendency toward trends that only look good on one body type (six feet tall and no curves), makes things pretty difficult for women or feminine-identifying people who can’t afford to buy higher-end clothing or pay a seamstress to alter the clothes they already have. From runway to rack, fashion is more often designed to punish non-conforming bodies than it is to bolster confidence.
And maybe it sounds strange, but I think that’s kind of why there’s so much joy to be found in watching a heist that takes place at the annual Met Gala. For the past few years, I’ve spent the first Monday in May glued to Twitter and gossip websites, waiting for the next celebrity to arrive and walk the red carpet for the fashion industry’s most exclusive night of the year. I study their looks and, sure, I judge them, especially when they’re not on theme (see: the Kardashians and the Jenners, every goddamn year). It’s endlessly fascinating to dissect the work that goes into every silhouette, every shoe, every jewel, every wisp of hair, every stroke of shadow, all on a single person, all for the sake of fashion.
It’s hard work to look that good, and they all make it look so easy.
Ocean’s 8 taps into that. Before the gala, we get a combination of scenes that show two ends of the spectrum of enacting fashion: the partial circus that deifies Daphne Kluger (Hathaway) with priceless jewels in a fancy hotel, and the lonely ritual of applying mascara that Debbie Ocean (Bullock) performs in a dingy park bathroom. Both women look incredible at the Met (really, all the women do, including the celebrity cameos with the glaring exception of the Kardashian / Jenners, who are predictably still not on theme even at a fake gala), but it’s Debbie who gets a compliment from Heidi Klum on the red carpet, unexpectedly and with real admiration. Daphne, on the other hands, gets a security team — not for her, but for her borrowed diamonds. Daphne doesn’t really get a compliment that means anything real until much later in the film, when the heist is over and the movie finally shows its cards.
In a roundabout way, Ocean’s 8 helps dismantle the stereotypes surrounding fashion — that it’s silly, that it takes itself too seriously, that women in the fashion world are cutthroat and vicious. Nothing could be further from the truth here. This movie, from Blanchett’s to-die-for pantsuits to Bullock’s jailbird gown, shows that fashion can be an integral part of a woman’s character because it can be many different things for many different women. It’s an extension of herself, an armor that protects her from the world, a tool to make her feel more comfortable in her own skin. If you can figure out how to make fashion work for you instead of the other way around, well, the possibilities are truly endless.
And not for nothing, but let’s not forget that the women in Ocean’s 8, from mastermind to mark, support each other and admire each other and work together to pull off a con that is the pinnacle of the Ocean family’s art. Debbie’s reward at the end is quiet and understated, but boy, does she deserve it.
All in all, Ocean’s 8 is a movie that really hits the mark when it comes to women and fashion, never once making either of them the butt of any joke. It’s a movie that knows women dress the way they do to get compliments from other women, just as it knows that there’s a little eight-year-old girl out there somewhere who dreams of being a world-class criminal. You’ll find no harsh judgment for either here, but rather understanding and camaraderie and good, plain fun.
And also Rihanna. Who, as always, is the patron saint of the Met Gala. Even the fictional ones.