'In this chicks-rule-the-roost universe, the men are non-existent, untrustworthy or plain incompetent and it's the women who are providing for each other's fantasies.'
Sreehari Nair applauds Ocean's 8.
Wouldn't it break Steven Sodenbergh's heart to know that scenes and plot-lines from his Ocean's series of heist movies are now referenced by professors of top Indian MBA Colleges while explaining topics such as Leadership and Team Building?
'As this slide will tell you,' says the most modish professor of strategic management, 'Danny Ocean had one goal but he also knew the power of many hands.'
Sodenbergh clearly meant his Ocean's films to be consumed as all surface, all gloss caper comedies, but we Indians are forever tied to our habit of discovering depth when there is absolutely none. (An addendum to this tidbit: Madhur Bhandarkar's Corporate is a huge favourite of many corporate management professors).
The Sodenbergh-produced, Gary Ross-directed, Ocean's 8, however, leaves no room for you to mistake gloss for anything profound.
No MBA professor, I assure you, will ever put this movie up on a classroom presentation.
That said, Ocean's 8 does not make a hash of the series and is good, glossy fun all the way. So consistently glossy, it glosses over not just aspects such as character development and character motivations but even its high-points.
Nothing is held for too long for it to seem deep, and no line is uttered so as to make it sound like a parable.
Even a great bit of female hipster philosophy, with Sandra Bullock's Debbie Ocean saying to her team before the grand heist, 'You are not doing this for me. You are not doing this for you. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. Do this for her,' is delivered with an air of total casualness.
And yet, just go over that line in your head and you will understand how it inverts both the history of movies and the history of female chastity.
In a prior scene, Debbie, in the process of assembling her crack-heist team tells Lou (Cate Blanchett) about her No-Men policy in these terms: "A 'him' gets noticed; a 'her' gets ignored. And for once, we'd like to be ignored."
You may be empowered by any or all of it, only this is 'too busy' a movie to demand anything from you, let alone empowerment.
By the time you have grasped the magic in a line, or the subversion in a moment, Ocean's 8 would have moved on.
If you stop for empowerment, you may lose the plot.
The unsaid truth of Ocean's 8 is that the women in the film have all evolved beyond cries of empowerment.
They know they are better than the men and so they treat them like accessories -- they are 'trying the men on'.
These women make the men 'characters in their plan' and discard them when they become too big for their closets.
And here's the beautiful part.
Movies such as Ocean's 8 or Veere Di Wedding (a terribly directed movie that works primarily because it defines 'The New Indian Superficial') are bringing the women to them.
These are not movies that offer women any 'reflection' -- oh no, let's be clear about that.
But one look at the women who're treating these movies as events to be attended with their gal pals, and you realise that they are not just having fun, but also discovering a sense of 'self' within all that glossiness.
A sense of 'self' without any guilt: these movies are Auto-Erotic.
Fast Cars and Dumb Big Action pictures have been supplying male audiences with this kind of Auto-Eroticism, but women have traditionally slept through those idiocies.
As a contrast, during Ocean's 8, I watched a chunky Punjabi girl put her popcorn basket away, uncross her legs, and lean forward as up on the screen, Cate Blanchett, wearing tight leather pants mounted her motorcycle and went zipping off.
In this chicks-rule-the-roost universe, the men are non-existent, untrustworthy or plain incompetent and it's the women who are providing for each other's fantasies.
Baby-faced Tammy (Sarah Paulson) seems always alert to Debbie's overpowering physical presence. And later, when she catches a peek of Debbie's ex-boyfriend (the smooth, suave hack, Claude Becker, played by Richard Armitage), Tammy is curious: 'What did you see in that schmuck, anyway?'
Debbie Ocean, Lou, and Tammy get the most face time, but it's a team of seven that Ocean assembles to steal the 'big steal' -- a $150 million necklace, Cartier's the Toussaint.
Blanchett and Bullock speaking through gum and a cold respectively, complete each other's lines with smirks, seemingly pleased with themselves.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Rose Weil, a washed out designer and she borrows for her part the nervous, wet kitten look of Les Misérables.
Mindy Kaling is Amita, a jewellery maker of Indian origin. Awkwafina is a fast-talking, sleight-of-hand artist, who flicks at the rate of her speech.
Rihanna grooves on it as Nine Ball, a tech wiz, who frequently gives you the impression that she simply 'loves her job' and conning just happened because it matched her work profile.
These women want 'all the good things' from life, and so when they set out to steal, they don't hold themselves back.
'If you are stealing, steal the silver; and not the plate,' as they say.
As with the other movies in the series, the entire universe conspires to make the heist a success by pouring out its stupidity.
There's a shop-lifting scene early on in Ocean's 8 that's clever but completely implausible, and it acts as a prelude to the heist later where things happen a little too smoothly for your tension to be sustained.
But the running spirit of the Ocean's series which seems to be that 'The world is a rich but spoiled princess who must be stolen from,' here discovers an added layer of satire because the story is told through the eyes of these chic women who all seem to desire The Princess Life.
The movie is glossy but set in a world of the vain, the stiff-necked and the consciously statuesque -- in a world of Met Galas and Art Exhibitions, where everyone's trying to keep their 'image' -- the glossiness acquires an ironical dimension.
Plus, it builds on the reputation of women as 'natural actresses, who are acting in life, to get through life' (even Serena Williams -- one of the many guests stars at the Met Gala along with Maria Sharapova, Kim Kardashian and Katie Holmes -- stops to record her life's first modest statement).
As compared to the three previous Ocean's films, the plot of this one is less tangly, and Garry Ross's technique too is less edgy. He seems to be channeling not 'Jazz', but a sort of 'Zen Dopiness'.
There are lazy zoom-ins to CCTV Camera; the signature whip-pans are almost absent; and the top shots descend very slowly, catching the characters at the tail-ends of their psychopathic confessions, rendered here with certain matter-of-factness.
'Banks are boring. So I thought I'll rob 10 banks. But that, I realised, was maybe coming from a very angry place,' says Debbie Ocean who has dead Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) blood and also his twinkle.
But unlike Danny's men, Debbie's women are ready to let their vanity loose to achieve their ends.
'She must have the sun,' says Amita says of Rose Weil.
Rose Weil acts as stylist to Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), a rattlebrained actress whom the gang of seven chooses to make their 'mule' -- 'she' will wear the $150 million necklace, and 'they' will take it off her neck... is the plan.
When Kluger, in the middle of getting styled, cries 'I look huge,' and Rose Weil comforts her with a 'Don't worry honey. You will light up the sky', I thought they were playing for comedy. But not one woman in the whole theatre laughed.
Nobody laughed, also, when Hathaway (hers is a performance that 'changes states' within a scene) trying on the Toussaint, looked into a mirror and whispered to her reflection, 'Lucky You!'
When Kluger at the Met Gala almost inhales her soup while stating, 'Sorry, but I haven't eaten in the last three days,' there were sighs but no laughs.
These were serious life issues being shown and discussed, and I, a knuckle-dragging heterosexual male, sat there feeling like an unsuitable guest at a drag party.
And so I looked around.
There in the faces of the other men was written 'inevitable doom'; they too seemed to be in need of some warming up.
But Ocean's 8 does warm you up to it without asking much from you.
And by the end, as the stylish On-Screen Texts made their final appearance, I was more inside the movie's world than outside.
'Oooh, Nice Font!' I almost heard myself exclaiming.
The heist was complete.
The gloss had got to me.