REVIEW: ‘Ocean’s 8’ is subtly delightful, but ultimately concerning

Rating: 2.5/4 stars

Months earlier, Cate Blanchett, who plays Lou in “Ocean’s 8,” stood among 81 other women on the steps of the Palais at the Cannes Film Festival, protesting gender inequality in the industry.

“We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live,” Blanchett proudly said in her speech.

Directed by Gary Ross, “Ocean’s 8” is the embodiment of the emerging women’s movement in Hollywood. Despite its exciting political shine, however, the film seems to drag its actresses through tired plot points, thus dulling the project’s overall gleam.

Similar to “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the latest installment of the “Ocean’s” series opens with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) taking a final bow after her five-year prison sentence. “I’m just looking forward to the simple life,” she says.

Lou soon reunites with Debbie, and the pair put together their entourage for a jewelry heist. In an enjoyable montage, viewers are introduced to Nine Ball (Rihanna), an expert hacker; Constance (Awkwafina), a central park pickpocket; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jewelry maker; Tammy (Sarah Paulson),  a suburban housewife and profiteer; and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a fashion designer.

The centerpiece of the heist, however, is actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), who must wear the Toussaint — a $150 million Cartier necklace — to the Met Gala.

“Ocean’s 8,” the all-female spinoff of the “Ocean’s” trilogy, earned a record-setting $41.5 million in its opening weekend. (Photo from IMDb).

Though “Ocean’s 8” makes no mistake in relishing its pro-female statement, the film has all the underpinnings of the traditional chick flick. At times, this quality is endearing — for instance, when Constance teaches Amita how to use dating apps. Often, it evokes a slight wince, as when Anne Hathaway’s character rolls her eyes to say she “just doesn’t have that many female friends!”

However, the movie teeters on galling in its revenge subplot involving Debbie’s former love interest: one of the first things she does upon being released from prison is attend his gallery opening, threatening a skeevy Richard Armitage with a DIY knife. “Closure,” she shrugs. Yet, a threat of violence isn’t enough for Debbie: her five years in prison weren’t just for planning a dazzling heist, it was also about punishing an ex-lover. She seamlessly pins the crime on Armitage’s character, Claude Becker, arousing from the audience an echo of Cate Blanchett’s reaction in the film: “You don’t plan a job within a job!”

The revenge plot feels cheap and unnecessary  — would Danny Ocean have revolved a heist around an ex? To worsen matters, the film hardly allows viewers the satisfaction of seeing Becker behind bars: Instead, we leave him asking for a lawyer in an interrogation room.

Perhaps the film would have felt more satisfying if Armitage’s screen time was evenly distributed among the many talented actresses in the film. For the most part, “Ocean’s 8” reveres its already-established stars, Bullock, Blanchett and Hathaway, leaving the rest of the cast to play the predictable chorus. Though confined to short scenes and dialogue, Kaling, Awkwafina and Rihanna consistently shine through their comedic timing and portrayal of lovable characters. It is worth noting that the no one from the latter group — the ‘women of color’ group — was present at the Met Gala as guests. Rather, they played the help.

This imbalance of representation among the women of color versus the film’s white actresses further denotes the subtle ways discrimination may crawl into what is touted as a movement of equality; it shows us that Hollywood still has a long way to go. A film like “Ocean’s 8” may mark a beginning, but hopefully more change will manifest before the industry promotes its next female-centered film.