Oceans 8: A Great Cast of Women in a Formulaic Movie

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, and Rihanna in Oceans 8.

The Oceans movies follow a familiar formula, and the female-centric Oceans 8 is no exception. It features a large cast of recognized stars—check; an intricate plot with twists and turns (not necessarily plausible)—check; dialogue that involves a lot of humorous bantering—check; multiple moving parts with a blizzard of quick cuts between different characters and scenes—check; and a triumphant ending with caper pulled off and perpetrators smug and enriched—check.

What this all adds up to is predictable light entertainment without violence, gore, super-powers, CGI, action shots, or anybody dying—which is not a bad thing. Basically, there’s not an ounce of depth or brilliance here, but you’re mostly in for a good time.

Oceans 8

The racially diverse cast features Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway as the main stars, with Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, and Rihanna in supporting roles.

The movie opens as Debbie Ocean (Bullock) is being released from prison after 5 years of incarceration. Her older brother Danny (played by George Clooney in Oceans 11, 12, 13) is dead, but the criminal family genes are alive and well in Debbie, who has spent her time in prison perfecting an elaborate plan for a major heist. She wastes no time recruiting her old pal Lou (Blanchett) as co-conspirator, and in short order they’ve lined up a team that includes skilled jewelry maker Amita (Kaling), ingenious hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), nimble pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), indebted fashion designer Rose Well (Bonham Carter), and retired stolen goods fence turned suburban mom Tammy (Paulson).

Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in Oceans 8.

The venue for the heist is the Metropolitan Museum’s fabulous gala in Manhattan, and the target is a dazzling Cartier diamond necklace to be worn by narcissistic movie star Daphne Kluger (Hathaway). Also dazzling in this movie is a lot of high fashion clothing on display before, during and after the Met gala—one advantage of having a cast of striking and attractive women! A subplot involves Debbie’s ex-boyfriend Claude Becker played by Richard Armitage.

Oceans 8 is part of a trend to remake male-centric hit movies with female casts (e.g. 2016’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call). I’m happy for increased opportunities for women in Hollywood, but a Hollywood remake inevitably demonstrates a lack of creativity and initiative in service of formulaic commercial success. I’d rather see women headlining new, original movies that become hits, e.g., Wonder Woman. HBO, Netflix, Hulu, and other TV and streaming channels are offering way more interesting and impactful leading roles for women that are attracting large audiences. Hollywood could do better.