11:00 am EDT, June 8, 2018

‘Ocean’s 8’ is more interested in celebrity than it is in jewels

The highly anticipated Ocean’s 8 is a serviceable heist movie, but it’s a far better showcase of the power of modern celebrity.

Ocean’s 8 is undeniably an event movie. It revisits an old franchise and injects new blood into it, building hype on the veritable charm and immense celebrity of its cast.

Audiences aren’t just familiar with names like Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, and Anne Hathaway; no, these are celebrities that most moviegoers have an opinion on. They are known, not just for a single role, but for their careers, their personal lives, their personalities.

Even the quote unquote smaller names in the cast – Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Awkwafina are familiar, friendly faces. A movie starring any one of these actresses would be notable, but in bringing them together, Warner Brothers has manufactured one of the biggest movie-going events of the summer.

In this way, Ocean’s 8 is irrevocably tied to the celebrity of its cast – a fact that, whether purposeful or not, helps to overshadow the movie’s weaker elements. The sheer excitement of seeing these actresses share the screen together helps assuage the serviceable direction, inert script, and weak characterization.

More to the point, the movie makes it clear that the actual details of the heist are not particularly important in order to enjoy watching it. The casually dropped in reveal in the third is evidence enough of the movie’s apathetic view towards its own plot.

Yes, the heist is exciting but it’s also kind of hollow. The chance that they get caught looms over them, sure, but the threat of failure never gets close enough to feel meaningful. In fact, the movie does remarkably little by way of establishing real dramatic tension or emotional stakes. There are hints of it here or there, but they evaporate as quick as they came.

Ocean’s 8 wants you to enjoy the heist, to revel in the glamour, absurdity, and flawless genius of the team. If you allow yourself to succumb to that, you’ll probably love watching this movie. That’s because the heist itself – or to take it one step further – any narrative element in the film plays second fiddle to the dazzling display of celebrity.

Movies, as both a cultural tradition and artistic creation, have always been wrapped up in celebrity. The tension between an audience’s desire to know celebrities and the celebrity’s detachment from reality make them compelling figures. They operate as facilitators of fictional stories as their own lives play out for public consumption.

While some movies work to strip away a celebrity’s persona, other movies lean into them, playing with them as a way of entertaining the audience. In Ocean’s 8, the veil between the film’s characters and the actor’s own personas is very, very thin.

Anne Hathaway’s character exemplifies the way Ocean’s 8 uses the cast members’ celebrity as a way of engaging viewers. Hathaway, for example, has been frequently and unfairly marred by criticism over being “unlikeable” – particularly in the years following her Oscar win for Les Miserables.

In Ocean’s 8, Hathaway seizes the opportunity to address her critics by delivering a performance that is both self-aware and self-deprecating. In embracing the very criticisms lodged at her, Hathaway plays the very caricature that was constructed for her. In turn, she makes a mockery of it, rendering whatever power it had useless.

Celebrity has always been an essential element of the Ocean’s franchise, with the original franchise starring big names like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts. But unlike the original movies that had a token woman or two, Ocean’s 8 puts the women in charge, placing them front and center in a way that is deeply cognizant of the way this choice rectifies mistakes of the past.

In this way, Ocean’s 8 feels something akin to a victory lap. It’s deeply satisfying to watch this cast — these celebrities, these women – relish in a spotlight that cannot be stolen or undermined. So what if this movie doesn’t win any awards? It doesn’t have to. So what if it’s a mess? I surely didn’t mind. Its very existence feels like a win, as a well-deserved acknowledgement of its stars’ celebrity, success, and power.

Early in the film, Sandra Bullock’s character remarks that she doesn’t want any men on the team. Her explanation? “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.” This sentiment earned laughs from my audience because, really, who could ignore these women? It’s a contradiction that works to underscore the talent of the film’s cast.

After the heist is complete, each member of the team exits the Met by making their way down the red carpeted stairs clad in glamorous gowns. This scene – arguably unnecessary to the plot of the movie – epitomizes the manner in which the film capitalizes on its casts’ celebrity. It’s a runway walk and, like Ocean’s 8, it’s a hell of a fun time to watch.

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