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Can’t we just let Ocean’s 8 be fun?

18 Jun 2018 | BY Sarah Thomas - @SarahTtheWriter

There’s a line in Ocean’s 8 where Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) explains to Lou (Cate Blanchett) that she doesn’t want any men in the heist crew, as women are more easily overlooked. “For once, we’d like to be ignored,” she says.

It’s this statement that really sums up the quandary of Ocean’s 8. It should be noteworthy that it’s an all-female crew pulling off this particular heist, but at the same time it shouldn’t be noticed at all. And herein lies the problem: while it’s an achievement that we’re getting a “gender-swapped” new outing for an established franchise, the expectations heaped upon its shoulders have been unreasonable to say the least.

Bullock, Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter head the cast in this thriller about a $150 million diamond theft, in a film generated by director and writer Gary Ross who is a long-time collaborator of the director of the original Ocean’s trilogy, Steven Soderbergh.

Is Ocean’s 8 a good movie? Yes. Is it a great one? No, not by any means. It’s good, fun, popcorn fodder, it’s shiny and sexy to look at, but trades a bit too much off the familiarity of its famous faces rather than setting up well-rounded, fresh characters who bounce off each other.

But even so, industry site Deadline.com, in its box-office report, felt the need to bring in the G-word – Ghostbusters – and how Ocean’s 8 fell short of the much-maligned 2016 reboot. It charitably added that Ocean’s 8 didn’t have the “geek nostalgia” element about it, but the original Oceans were driven by a female audience and “carried little risk conceptually”.

“It would be easy to sneer at the new Ocean’s 8 as a typical modern studio ‘women’s picture’,” said the Guardian, which went on to do just that in an analysis ruminating on whether women should be participating in heists that are “traditionally a man’s game”. Elsewhere, the outlet’s two-star review amounted to a forensic comparison to its male predecessors, a bias that, of course, fails to capture the film on its own merits. “The film keeps threatening to loosen up and allow the women the freedom to recreate the fun, hangout vibe that made Soderbergh’s film such a rush, but there’s a glaring incompetency here in Ross bringing such talents together and not knowing what the hell to do with them,” said the review.

“True equality will be normalising female-led films and allowing them to participate in and reflect cinema as a whole, in all its levels of quality.”

The second aspect of that sentence is a fair assessment, but it is also the central point to what is important about Ocean’s 8. How fantastic would it be if we can get to a point where we can say female-led films are crap, OK or brilliant, based on their individual merits and that alone?

True equality will be normalising female-led films and allowing them to participate in and reflect cinema as a whole, in all its levels of quality.

Ocean’s 8 won’t change the world, but it’s an agreeable two hours in front of the big screen, and that’s just fine for a heist movie. Although this sounds a bit like a clarion call for mediocrity, it’s an appeal for greater representation. The more female-led films, the better and, on the balance of probabilities, some will be incredible while some will be a bit rubbish – and that’s OK because a normalised chunk of the cinematic spectrum is what we want. For every raucous, razor-sharp triumph like Girls Trip, there will be a miss-the-mark Rough Night. Some movies just aren’t great, but they should allowed to be bad without damning the whole idea of women on film.

More debate has sprung up in the past few days about how negative reviews of by male critics might have damaged the film and how more diversity is needed among reviewers. “If I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful,” Mindy Kaling said in response.

That’s a whole other can of worms right there, but at the very, very least Ocean’s 8 shows us the burdensome weight of context it has struggled under. An article on Forbes.com raised a valuable point in that the success of the film shouldn’t be a “surprise or test case … movies like Ocean’s 8 show that big movies about women/for women should no longer have to shoulder the pressure the onscreen representation of an entire gender.”

So, yes, ultimately what Ocean’s 8 has shown us is that we’re still a long way off from ignoring women in the right way.

 

Sarah Thomas is a freelance entertainment writer and contributing editor at The FIERCE.

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