Ocean's 8: All-Female Films and the Future of Film Criticism

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By Claire. 

In its opening weekend, Ocean's 8 surpassed Solo: A Star Wars Story. Star Wars, a franchise known to be dominated by nerdy white men (obviously, this is not accurate to the entire population of Star Wars fans, but these are the ones who are driving actresses like Kelly Marie Tran off of social media due to their domination of critique and harassment), has been surpassed by an all-female heist movie. Additionally, according to Entertainment Weekly, the latest addition to the Ocean’s franchise has the biggest opening weekend out of all of the Oceans movies (not accounting for inflation).

Snaps. For. That.

Directed by Gary Ross, Ocean’s 8 stars Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, the sister of recently and mysteriously deceased Danny Ocean (George Clooney, only present as a photo in this film, but centres as the link between the Ocean’s franchise). Freshly released from prison, Debbie immediately organises a team of women to pull off a multi-million-dollar heist at the most exclusive event of the year, the Met Gala. This film has the cast of your dreams: Cate Blanchett, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkafina, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Anne Hathaway as the vapid Hollywood starlet Daphne Kluger, whom the Ocean team steal from. 

The film is a joy to watch. Despite John Mulaney’s predictions, the all-female team are supportive of one another. No one is catty or distracted or tearing another down. The characters are cunning and the best at what they do. I left the cinema thinking “I wish I was that smart.” Katie Duggan from Screen Queens had a similar reaction, and writes, “is this how badass men feel all the time? Is this why they feel like they can get away with anything?”

With a stellar line up in its cast and cool-as-heck plot, it’s easy to see why it has achieved such a big opening. This is something audiences have been waiting to see for far too long.

Despite this, the film has also received mixed reviews. Due to the attachment to the Ocean’s franchise name, some (i.e. men) can only see the film in relation to how it compares to the original (male dominated) films. This comes with the inability to critique the film on its own terms.

In the age of Twitter’s call for all female reboots, many (males) enter the cinema with the pre-determined bias of not liking reboots. Just the other day my sister told a guy on the dating app Bumble about how she was going to see Ocean's 8, and he immediately shot down the idea of ever having interest in the film because it would mess with the “unique style” of the original Ocean’s movies. Umm… what?

If people hate reboots, then how do we account for the recent return of Jurassic Park with Jurassic World? How do you account for any of the Star Wars movies made after George Lucas? I am still waiting for a sequel to Paul Fieg’s Ghostbusters, and I would love, but be very surprised, if Ocean’s 8 gets another movie. This cannot be due to the quality of the films. 2015’s Jurassic World received lukewarm reviews, with Variety calling it a “so-so return” and The Guardian declaring the film “has scales, but no soul.” Yet, this has not stopped the franchise, with its sequel also released this month.

Currently, reboots and remakes are a dime a dozen for big studio films. Logically, based on the success of certain films in the past, to replicate that format and story for a new audience seems like a safe bet and easy return. Looking at headlines from over the years, the reality is that this is not always as the case. Sometimes, the success of a film relies on the seamless combination of its ingenuity, the perfect cast and the right director. Jurassic World did not work because it could not replicate the complete unique-ness of the original Jurassic Park film. Nor could it compete with Steven Spielberg, who is one of the founders of the major studio blockbuster. And yet. 

Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock in Ocean's 8

Unlike Jurassic World, the likelihood for an Ocean's 8 sequel, even in these early stages, is minimal. A lot of this comes down to a lack of voices in film criticism which champion female-led films.

Over the past week, research by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism which found most film critics are white, and male was published. The statistics, that 82% of reviews written on the top 100 films of 2017 were male, and of that number 78% were white, is not new information for female and POC critics. Unfortunately, it is the harsh reality.

Most calls for diversity in film criticism include that we need voices to champion female led movies or what are deemed “women’s films”. On the other hand, as Monica Castillo points out, not all women and POC think the same. Women don’t automatically love all films made by, or staring, women and women and POC don’t only want to review films aimed at them.

At the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards last week, Brie Larson said “I don’t want to hear what a 40-year-old white man has to say about Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him.” Similarly, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock argued, “it would be nice if reviewers reflected who the film is for,” which, yes, sounds great, until she continues “like children should review children’s films, not a 60 year old man.”

While their hearts are in the right place, this line of thinking is reductive and restricts writer’s voices even more. Certainly, it would have been great to see more people of colour chosen to write on Black Panther, and less men writing on 2015’s Ghostbusters, but despite recent strides forward for women and diversity in film, there is still a low percentage of films out there which would qualify female and/or POC writers as the target audience.

Ocean's 8 isn’t perfect, but it shouldn’t have to be. The film is for women, and a lot of women love it. Some women don’t, but all find value in it. Unfortunately, to get to these critiques, one has to wade through all the reviews written by men. Like the guy on my sister’s Bumble, it is not uncommon for male critics, too, to be unable to see the film beyond the lens of a remake. To see the film beyond a group of women trying to replace the male characters they love so much. They miss the point.

Film critics have opinions on all films. As Hannah Woodhead wrote in a piece for Little White Lies, “[a]mazingly, women also have opinions about the Fast and Furious films, and POC writers like to talk about all your favourite white directors too.” So how do we balance this? Increase the number of voices heard in film criticism so that there is a more rounded opinion and discussion on films, from a variety of voices and perspectives. Not everyone will agree, but at least criticism can move away from collective crowd-think. Then, not only can girls see themselves in film, but maybe they can see themselves represented in film critique, too.
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