The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Ocean’s 8,” click here.
The women of “Ocean’s 8” commit a high crime in high fashion. With no pockets.
Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) — sister of Danny of the “Ocean’s Eleven”-through-“Thirteen” trilogy — has put together what the movie thankfully never calls a “girl group.” Fresh out on parole, Debbie sets her sights on the annual Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is that real-life party where everyone wears crazy clothes they can barely walk in.
Specifically, Debbie’s group is targeting a 6-pound diamond necklace to be worn by actor Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, who still has the comedy chops from the “Princess Diaries” movies). The buildup to the heist is engaging and occasionally hilarious; the robbery itself is clever and tense in all the right ways. It’s especially right because of where it takes place: at what’s essentially a fashion show.
First, let’s clarify that there are plenty of men who are interested in fashion and plenty of women who aren’t. That said, clothing usually falls into the “girl toys” category of life. Moreover, from high school’s “Isn’t that skirt a little short?” to middle age’s “Isn’t that outfit a bit young for you?” women’s clothing is scrutinized more than men’s. Whether it’s at the Met Gala, the Oscars, work or the gym, women often use clothes to stand out or to blend in.
The irony, of course, is that fashion is often unkind to women. At the highest end, actresses and models have to fit into a very thin box. Even when the rest of us wear higher-end or more formal pieces, there are Spanx and strapless bras and heels that usually go with them. And forget about practicality — there are so few pockets. Dress pants usually have fake ones, and I can count on one hand the number of dresses I have that have pockets. I know I can do that because that number is one.
So setting “Ocean’s 8” at a fashion-centric event means that “Ocean’s 8” is not only about women, but it takes place in a space where clothing is the entire point of the evening (the event raises money for the Met’s Costume Institute). At first, only Debbie is the star, startlingly visible in an evening gown; most of the other women in her crew are dressed as dishwashers and servers and the like, so they enter through the back doors and blend in with the background. As all the women move into evening gowns — Rihanna’s look drew actual applause at my screening, and deservedly so — they can walk out the front door and blend in with the crowd.
These women know the messages clothing sends, and they use that knowledge to their advantage. Their strategy isn’t one that would necessarily work in a casino or bank; they speak the sartorial language of power, so of course they’re going to pick a place where that’s the common tongue.
Costumes carry meaning in film — just like our everyday clothes do in real life. In “Ocean’s 8,” they’re a way for women to navigate through echelons of power in a way men might not be able to. Debbie and her team use fewer people to go after more money than Danny ever did. And they do it in style.
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