'Ocean’s 8:' In Defense of Women Standing and Talking

I could watch Cate Blanchett whisper sweet nothings through her bangs at Sandra Bullock, all day long. Or at least for an hour and 51 minutes, the run time of Ocean’s 8.

One critique of the all-female addition to the Ocean’s franchise is that they mostly just stand around and talk. That the story is slow and the movie relies too much on the elaborate costumery and celebrity name power. But what’s wrong with that?

We love to watch people just stand or sit around and talk. That’s all sit-coms are. Period dramas are just conversation with an accent. Science fiction, standing and spouting techno-babble. Even comic book movies like Avengers—sure, they’re graded on their sexiest and biggest explosions, but it’s the cute, witty banter between beloved Hollywood men that hooks audiences for endless sequels.

One of the most well-known scenes from the classic Pulp Fiction is just two famous men talking about a cheeseburger.

Point is, we love watching famous people say things in attractive outfits. That 8 features women at a fashion event doesn’t make it any less compelling than the dashing gentlemen of Ocean’s 11-13, standing and chatting in their own formal drag at various fancy events. In those movies, Brad Pitt wears shinier shirts than anyone at either the real or fictional Met Gala. And he’s sure compelling doing it.

Like its all-male predecessors, Ocean’s 8 never erupts into an action-packed climax. Sure, some third act twists shake up the plot a little but even then, the film strolls through these surprises with the cool posture of Blanchett in her finest blazer. The success of the Ocean’s franchise is not in the action, scant in all four movies. The elaborate heists are just a means to enjoy the elegant fashions and je ne sais quoi of the celebrity faces we all love, performing heightened versions of themselves.

Watching powerhouse actresses like Cate Blanchett stand around in posh, lesbionic outfits and talk is why Hollywood exists. That’s why we watch clips of our favorite celebrities on talk shows. That’s why we consume reality TV, even if we pretend we don’t. We like watching our favorite people say things, any things.

Part of the problem with the reception of Ocean’s 8, one that cast members Mindy Kaling and Cate Blanchett identified, is that most movie critics are men, white men to boot. That isn’t to disregard all negative reviews of 8 as sexist. Nor does it mean men aren’t allowed to see or enjoy a movie with a female cast. But this movie was made with women in mind and that means many of the references and sly jokes might go over the heads of some fine white male critics because the default in media is white maleness. You have to seek out non-white male content and fewer white men are going to do that, simply because they don’t have to.

Debbie Ocean’s explanation about why she wants a female crew — women are ignored more than men and that benefits a crew doing crime in public — will ring more strongly with women and minorities who can personally identify with that experience of being alone in a sea of besuited white men.

We didn’t see Ocean’s 11 to dissect its philosophical meaning or CGI sequences. We saw it to witness George Clooney talking to Brad Pitt while wearing sexy suits in various train platforms and hotels. We watch Ocean’s 8 to see Cate Blanchett lady-spread like the butch queen she was meant to be. We watch it to see Rihanna and Sandra Bullock interact in literally any way possible. We watch it to see Anne Hathaway say “fuck you” to her Hathahaters by enacting the absurd, bratty celeb the haters made her out to be years ago. We watch it for all the references to the real-life drama we love. We watch it to see these famous women talk to each other. And that’s nothing new in cinema.