Analysis of Oceans Eight

I have a good friend who is concerned, as am I, about the representation of women in public discourse. Which is why she had held out high hopes for Oceans Eight. It’s sequel of sorts to Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack heist film Oceans Eleven, but this time with an all female cast of thieves.

She said that she had wanted to really like it, and was surprised by how unengaged she felt watching it. She told me she wondered whether this was due to some unexamined gender bias on her own part.

Having not seen the film, I asked her a few questions, after which I developed a theory that the problem lay not with her, but with the script. Both iterations of Oceans films spent a lot of time working through the relationships between the men. You cared about the heist because you cared about them, and you cared about them because you saw them work through their interpersonal issues with each other.

Today on my flight back from Paris I went ahead and watched Oceans Eight. And it was exactly as I had predicted and feared. The entire cast was wonderful, the action scenes were perfectly executed, the general look — cinematography, lighting, costumes, sets — were a marvel.

But nothing actually happened between the principal characters to make you feel that they had worked to develop their bond with each other. It was all simply assumed, and never tested. So for all of the great acting on screen by Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and others, nothing they did truly felt like it mattered on a human level.

The takeaway for me is that if you want to move the needle on films involving women out in the world, you still need to do the work of building a story that focuses on how the relationships between them are tested and worked through. That is a principle which holds true for all storytelling — no matter what the gender focus.

Or as old Shakespeare might have put it: “The fault lies not in our Stars, but in our screenplay.”

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