Of non-original ideas. Don't get me wrong, I love a spin-off, remake, reboot, or sequel made way too long after the original, but there isn't anything quite like an original story. They are few and far between these days, with the Original Screenplay category at the Oscars being more and more based on true stories, which is kind of a cheat when we really think about the word "original".
Nevertheless, the Hollywood machine likes to stick with what they know works and put out as much of it as possible. With a twist, of course. The most exciting and increasingly common trend is to remake/reboot/rethink films with a gender swapped cast. We had the disastrous male-to-female led Ghostbusters remake, gender-swapped remakes of Overboard and the upcoming Splash, but perhaps the most anticipated is the remarkable talent brought together for the Ocean's reboot, Ocean's 8.
With an amazing range of dramatic, comedic, amateur and veteran talent, and the addition of Oscar nominated writer/director Gary Ross, you'd think we'd be in for a rare and immensely impressive treat, right? I know that's what I went into the theater expecting. Unfortunately, with all work and pressure left solely to the cast, Ocean's 8 entertains, but fails to make an impression.
Upon her release from prison, Debbie Ocean (played by Sandra Bullock) convinces her former partner-in-crime, Lou (played by DMAA nominee Cate Blanchett) join a heist five-years in the making. The plan is to steal a $150 million Cartier necklace that's been kept in the vault for decades, off the neck of one of the world's most famous, self-centered, ditsy actresses, Daphne Kluger (played by Anne Hathaway) from the most high-profile event of the year, the Met Gala. All she needs is a group of skilled crime professionals: Rose Weil (played by Helena Bonham Carter), a washed-up, in-dept fashion designer; Amita (played by Mindy Kaling), a jewelry maker still living with her mother; Nine Ball (played by Rihanna), a hacker; Tammy (played by Sarah Paulson), a former profiteer turned suburban housewife; and Constance (played by Awkwafina), a low-rent pickpocket.
The cast of Oscar winners and nominees, musical icons and fan favorites alike are the entire reason the movie works to extent that it does. All the women bring the lackluster script off the page to the best of their abilities, but with a rather dull and easy story, they can only do so much. Helena Bonham Carter's nervous and quirky Rose shines the brightest in the ensemble of stars, being the most developed and believable participant. The other women have undeniable chemistry which is smothered by the lack of tension, stakes and motivation the script fails to offer. Screen time between all these major hitters is effectively divided, but I could always use more Mindy on screen, cause who couldn't?
As the plan comes together and the big night finally arrives, things go off without a hitch. Even after the successful heist when John Frazier (played by DMAA nominee James Corden), an insurance investigator, comes in to investigate the stolen necklace, not a bead of sweat rolls down Debbie's forehead. This is the major problem with the film; there are ZERO stakes. Not once in the runtime of the film does your stomach start to rumble with anxiety, your body move to the edge of your seat or your blood start to pump faster. Nothing goes wrong. The heist goes exactly as planned and even when little troubles arise, they're resolved within the minute. There are small moments of characters deciding to turn left, instead of right that make you think "finally, this is the moment it will go wrong", but nothing comes of them.
James Corden's John Frazier doesn't come in until about the last thirty minutes of the movie, and he steals the entire thing. His comedy is clearly not the writing of the character, but rather the charismatic goofiness we love from Corden. The downfall of Corden's hilarity is that it creates a tonal shift of the ending of the film. The beginning and middle of the film lacks wit and fast-paced timing, which then in comparison to the ending makes the third act speed on by. A character introduced a few scenes before the credits roll shouldn't be able to come in at the last moment and completely steal the whole movie from a cast as talented and acclaimed as Ocean's 8's ensemble, but when you make a movie that relies on entertainment value and the creative choice to cast an all-female ensemble, the movie falls flat.
Another distracting, and in my opinion unacceptable, element is the costume design. Notably the Met Gala scenes, it appears that costume designer Sarah Edwards was unaware of the high fashion dress code. The dresses and outfits the characters wear at the event were beautiful, but falsely reflected the avant-garde fashion that the Met Gala is known for. The costumes are too simple and would work more as Oscar red carpet looks rather than Rihanna-level Gala wear. I know this is an element that wouldn't phase a lot of movie goers, but seeing as I wasn't lost in the whirlwind of crime happening on screen, the lack of high-end clothing got my blood pumping in a bad way.
Ocean's 8 is an entertaining movie, that will keep you interested and having fun the entire time, but it does nothing more than just that. If we get a sequel, we need further character development, for example an explanation of the intense sexual chemistry between Bullock and Blanchett, which implies a past love affair. We need unbelievably higher stakes and we need things to go wrong. We need to be biting our nails, and question the entire time whether or not they'll pull it off, because that's what takes entertainment value to the next level and makes a memorable film.
It begs to be acknowledged that an all-female ensemble works and should be done more often, but only when the film doesn't rely on that fact solely. Movies that feature an all-male ensemble don't just rely on the fact that every character is a man, it still has to set up a story with all the ebs and flows. The next step we have to take in this new age of women in film is remember that actors need characters to play. We don't go to the movies just to see actors walk around on screen, we go to see them transform. The only difference there should be on screen between a male and female centered film is the visual; every other filmic element is the same.
Cate Blanchett (DMAA nominee)
Helen Bonham Carter
James Corden (DMAA nominee)