“MEN ARE OVER LET’S DO CRIMES,” was the text I sent no less than four female friends upon exiting Ocean’s 8. I didn’t follow the hype train that had been rolling full-steam ahead for what felt like a year. I’d see the occasional behind-the-scenes photo make the rounds on social media, but beyond that, I knew nothing. I saw it by myself in the middle of the afternoon on a whim, but when I left?
My step had a spring in it. A smile was plastered on my face despite the fact that I hadn’t been doing a whole lot of smiling in general for weeks. I was in the sort of good mood that feels so rare and undeserved that you want to cling to it with everything you’ve got. If felt like a gift.
It also felt like a stranger.
The feeling I had on coming out of Ocean’s 8 isn’t one I’ve had often. It reminded me of the way I felt after Fury Road and Wonder Woman. The only difference was that I wasn’t really expecting to feel that way about this workmanlike reboot. But it was another experience I’d never had before, another moment of wondering if this was how men felt all the time. And all of these powerful and positive feelings seemed to have very little to do with whether I wanted to sit down and think critically about whether Ocean’s 8 is a good movie or not.
It’s clear where critics stand: reviews have been pretty staunchly lukewarm. Despite Mindy Kaling’s pronouncement that white male critics are being unfair to the film, prominent female critics have had just as many negative things to say. Jia Tolentino’s piece in The New Yorker laments the mechanical and visually uninteresting camerawork, Stephanie Zacharek at Time was disappointed at seeing a stellar cast with not nearly enough to do, and over at Bitch Media, Aya de Leon lambasted it for not being political or subversive enough.
I’m not incapable of seeing their points. When you break Ocean’s 8 apart, there’s not much of true note to talk about. Gary Ross’s direction lacks the style and substance of Soderbergh’s. Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Cate Blanchett deliver killer performances, yes, but in relatively underdeveloped parts. There isn’t a lot of time spent developing the relationships between all these women when that should ostensibly be the most interesting part. The plot is standard heist fare that follows the expected beats to a T.
And yet … none of that accounts for the sheer amount of joy I felt.
There’s a tendency to assume those delighting in a piece of flawed media are ignorant to its flaws—they love it because they’re blind to its failings—but that’s a gross oversimplification.
Me? I’m torn between two minds. Half of me thinks raising the bar merely because it’s an all-woman cast is a losing game, that demanding perfection because it’s women and the stakes feel higher only sets up an imbalance where men aren’t punished for their lack of a grand message but women are. Aren’t we entitled to our fluff, too? Do we have to consider average a failure?
But the other half of me … The other half worries about the exact opposite. I worry that we’re so desperate for representation of any kind, that we’ll take what we can get. That we are in danger of treating table scraps like a four-course meal, and ultimately sending Hollywood the message that they don’t need to try harder. After all, why make a great movie when we’ll lap up mediocrity?
And honestly? I don’t have an answer to that.
Both things are true to some degree. Both concerns are real.
Maybe Richard Brody gets the closest in his review when he describes Hollywood as a great money-laundering machine and writes of a future where it exists less to create great art than to fund its talent well enough that they can help create it themselves: “All of the actresses in Ocean’s 8 need movies of their own, in which they can give free rein to their experiences, their talents, and their points of view. And if Ocean’s 8 is the long-plotted means to that end, so be it.”
That strikes me as about right, but it’s still missing a piece of the puzzle. Because despite its flaws, its imperfectness, it gave me something so few movies ever have. It was an escape that didn’t ask me to make concessions. I didn’t have to settle for Tess in Ocean’s Eleven when I wanted representation. I didn’t have to deal with a love story I didn’t want or care about. Men were irrelevant. They served the plot as they needed to and otherwise faded to the background. The men were boring. The women shone. There was no one I didn’t want to be.
That’s a feeling I’d like to revel in, if only for a little while.