'Ocean's 8' Is Flawed. I Don't Care.

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“MEN ARE OVER LET’S DO CRIMES,” was the text I sent no less than four female friends upon exiting Ocean’s 8. I didn’t follow the hype train that had been rolling full-steam ahead for what felt like a year. I’d see the occasional behind-the-scenes photo make the rounds on social media, but beyond that, I knew nothing. I saw it by myself in the middle of the afternoon on a whim, but when I left? 

My step had a spring in it. A smile was plastered on my face despite the fact that I hadn’t been doing a whole lot of smiling in general for weeks. I was in the sort of good mood that feels so rare and undeserved that you want to cling to it with everything you’ve got. If felt like a gift.

It also felt like a stranger.

The feeling I had on coming out of Ocean’s 8 isn’t one I’ve had often. It reminded me of the way I felt after Fury Road and Wonder Woman. The only difference was that I wasn’t really expecting to feel that way about this workmanlike reboot. But it was another experience I’d never had before, another moment of wondering if this was how men felt all the time. And all of these powerful and positive feelings seemed to have very little to do with whether I wanted to sit down and think critically about whether Ocean’s 8 is a good movie or not.

It’s clear where critics stand: reviews have been pretty staunchly lukewarm. Despite Mindy Kaling’s pronouncement that white male critics are being unfair to the film, prominent female critics have had just as many negative things to say. Jia Tolentino’s piece in The New Yorker laments the mechanical and visually uninteresting camerawork, Stephanie Zacharek at Time was disappointed at seeing a stellar cast with not nearly enough to do, and over at Bitch Media, Aya de Leon lambasted it for not being political or subversive enough.

I’m not incapable of seeing their points. When you break Ocean’s 8 apart, there’s not much of true note to talk about. Gary Ross’s direction lacks the style and substance of Soderbergh’s. Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Cate Blanchett deliver killer performances, yes, but in relatively underdeveloped parts. There isn’t a lot of time spent developing the relationships between all these women when that should ostensibly be the most interesting part. The plot is standard heist fare that follows the expected beats to a T.

 And yet … none of that accounts for the sheer amount of joy I felt.

There’s a tendency to assume those delighting in a piece of flawed media are ignorant to its flaws—they love it because they’re blind to its failings—but that’s a gross oversimplification. 

Me? I’m torn between two minds. Half of me thinks raising the bar merely because it’s an all-woman cast is a losing game, that demanding perfection because it’s women and the stakes feel higher only sets up an imbalance where men aren’t punished for their lack of a grand message but women are. Aren’t we entitled to our fluff, too? Do we have to consider average a failure?

But the other half of me … The other half worries about the exact opposite. I worry that we’re so desperate for representation of any kind, that we’ll take what we can get. That we are in danger of treating table scraps like a four-course meal, and ultimately sending Hollywood the message that they don’t need to try harder. After all, why make a great movie when we’ll lap up mediocrity?

And honestly? I don’t have an answer to that. 

Both things are true to some degree. Both concerns are real.

Maybe Richard Brody gets the closest in his review when he describes Hollywood as a great money-laundering machine and writes of a future where it exists less to create great art than to fund its talent well enough that they can help create it themselves: “All of the actresses in Ocean’s 8 need movies of their own, in which they can give free rein to their experiences, their talents, and their points of view. And if Ocean’s 8 is the long-plotted means to that end, so be it.”

That strikes me as about right, but it’s still missing a piece of the puzzle. Because despite its flaws, its imperfectness, it gave me something so few movies ever have. It was an escape that didn’t ask me to make concessions. I didn’t have to settle for Tess in Ocean’s Eleven when I wanted representation. I didn’t have to deal with a love story I didn’t want or care about. Men were irrelevant. They served the plot as they needed to and otherwise faded to the background. The men were boring. The women shone. There was no one I didn’t want to be

That’s a feeling I’d like to revel in, if only for a little while.

Why I Won't Watch 'The Handmaid's Tale': On the Freedom of Opting Out


I am The Handmaid’s Tale’s prime target audience. I’m a feminist with a deep love for Margaret Atwood (Cat’s Eye was the only book I recommended to anyone for at least a year). The mere mention of Elisabeth Moss is enough to pique my interest in almost anything. It only makes sense that I should be rabid in my love for Hulu’s award-winning show.

Except I stalled out at episode seven and haven’t been able to bring myself to keep watching since.

People always ask me about the show, and I always stumble, sheepishly apologizing as if not watching were a personal failing. In fact, it was in a conversation just like that when it hit me. My good friend and I were discussing the show and I started to fall back on my usual promises: I would catch up eventually! I would go back! I’m just taking a break! And she paused and said that if I needed to just give up because the show was too much, I shouldn’t feel bad about it. “Why torture yourself?” she asked.

And suddenly it clicked. I could finally accept what was clearly true, what for months I didn’t want to admit . . .

I am never going to finish The Handmaid’s Tale. I have no desire to finish it. I’m opting out.

The show was full of things I loved. I was fascinated by the way the story deviated from the book. The casting was pitch perfect. Yes, it faltered and stumbled, but its moments of beauty and brilliance always outshone its missteps. It brought me to tears. By all rights, I loved it.

But if I loved it, why did I stop? And more importantly, why would I refuse to go back?

And that’s where context matters.

After the 2016 election, things felt, to put it bluntly, pretty fucking bleak. Suddenly it seemed like everything was on the line, and budding activist that I am, my schedule was soon full of community organizing meetings, midterm campaign rallies, protests, and digesting an endless amount of news.

I jumped into the show when it debuted, but quickly fell out of it. I told myself at the time that it was just too heavy for the moment. We were only a few months into our new presidency and it seemed like the world was exploding every other week. So I gave myself a break. “I’ll go back in the fall,” I said. Fall and winter were always my preferred seasons for digging into heavy dramas anyway. The days grow shorter, we switch to hibernation mode, it’s objectively the perfect time for TV’s darker offerings.

But as the temperatures dropped and the year wound down, the newscycle reached a brutal fever pitch. The #MeToo campaign, going strong since October (despite being created by Tarana Burke in 2006), felled one Hollywood heavyweight after another. The stories swirling around Weinstein were growing more stomach-churning by the minute, not to mention those of the Spaceys, Lauers, and Louies. 

At the same time, Alabama’s special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s senate seat was ramping up. Roy Moore campaigned as the Republican frontrunner, despite his reputation as a predator that prowled the mall trolling for underage girls. The strong condemnations from fellow Republicans turned meek. The President loudly proclaimed his support. The women speaking out against him were called liars as the same old story played out. A he said, she said where the he always matters more than the she.

I remember turning on the news one day as I got ready for work the way I do every morning and listening to the latest updates on both stories when all of a sudden the crushing weight of it was too much. Something in me snapped and I burst into tears and just . . . sobbed. 

I didn’t need the news to tell me how bad it could be for women. I already knew. I and every woman I know had been telling people and telling people and telling people what our reality actually looked like and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been screaming in a vacuum. That all this time, no one had been listening. “Is this how bad it has to be before anyone cares?” was the chorus screaming out in my head.

Of course in the midst of all this was when I had decided to finally return to The Handmaid’s Tale. I made it two episodes, crying intensely after each the way I had with the previous five, before I bailed once again.

Normally, crying feels like a release for me, but that wasn’t the case here. I didn’t feel a release. There was no sense of satisfaction. Instead, the pain felt more real, more tangible. It felt like helplessness or hopelessness. I wasn’t letting go, I was just drowning in it.

Imagining a world where the rights of women can be stripped away, where no cares how often they’re raped, where no one wants to believe their agency is worth fighting for, was not a fun “thought experiment.” 

When 85 women come forward to say they were harassed, abused, or raped and that the entire industry knew about it and no one cared, I don’t actually need to imagine that world at all. When the only reason we’re even talking about these women is because half of them are famous and thus have clout that the marginalized women in the world do not, it’s not difficult to extrapolate how widespread the problem actually is. It’s not hard to imagine how many predators of varying degrees fly under the radar because their victims don’t have the means to come forward.

The morning I found myself breaking down over the news, I decided to put myself on a media blackout, at least for a little while. I stopped listening to NPR. I stopped reading the New York Times. I stopped trying to keep up with the latest tragedies.

But the pressure to keep watching The Handmaid’s Tale stayed high in my mind. For some reason, I could back away from the news, but I couldn’t give myself the same permission to say, “This show does not make me feel good. This show isn’t teaching me anything I don’t already know intimately. I don’t want to keep watching it.”

All the women around me seemed to be connecting to it so intensely, I wanted to be in on the pain with them. I wanted to share in this collective moment. But sharing in it wasn’t the balm for reality that I wanted it to be. It took me a year to admit that it was only pressing on the wound, irritating the cuts, and that if I wanted some peace, then this wasn’t the show for me. 

Because when I wasn’t watching it, I didn’t feel bleak in the same ways. I was throwing myself into fixing the parts of the world that I thought were broken and I beamed with pride watching other women do the same. Diving into the show actually made me forget all of that. It felt like wallowing in the darkest parts of my mind.

That said, I’m thrilled that The Handmaid’s Tale is successful. I love that it’s exposing more people to a book I love. I love that it’s making its audience have difficult conversations and entertain other points of view. I love that it exists.

But I’m sitting this one out. I’m saying no. I’m choosing to trade participation in the pop culture zeitgeist—however vital that participation can feel—for a little peace instead.

A Cry-Baby's Defense: Thoughts on 'All Is Lost' and Crying at the Movies


I’m a cry-baby. I always have been. The first to cry on the playground, the first to take an insult to heart and wear the hurt on my face, the first to apologize for the sobs I can’t control, that seep their way out of a well of tears constantly bubbling below the surface just waiting to be tapped.

And because it can take years to unlearn the shame that goes hand in hand with crying—we’re taught early on that it’s unacceptable, that it’s weakness, maybe even failure—I’ve been fighting back my own tears for as long as I can remember. It’s a losing battle, one I spent a long time being embarrassed of fighting. I’d contort my face, as if the right expression could act as a dam. I’d try to choke it back, perfecting the art of the pantomime in an effort to prove that I really did just have “something in my eye” despite being fairly certain that I was fooling no one, least of all myself. But finally, at 30, I’ve realized that it can’t actually be helped. That it shouldn’t be helped. That it’s just a facet of myself like the color of my hair or the size of my feet. It just is.

But there was always something different about crying at movies, something that made it seem more acceptable on some level. I remember being seven years old, sitting in the theater for The Lion King, watching Mufasa fall as the tears ran down my cheeks and being startled, even shocked by the fact that something I knew wasn’t real could make me feel this way. 

At first, I wondered if it was just the comfort of the darkness and the anonymity that goes with it. Isn’t it always easier to accept our feelings when we think no one is watching? 

Or maybe the veil of shame lifts because you aren’t crying for yourself; you’re crying because of what’s on screen. The tears aren’t for you, they aren’t personal, so you can accept them. Is that what makes it easier?

That’s what I used to think, but I don’t know that I do anymore.

My relationship to the films that make me cry, particularly the ones that make me cry the hardest, has changed. Now the difference feels like it must be something more than all of that. Because the movies that wring the sobs from me, that devastate me and leave me feeling raw and exposed, tend to be the ones I love the most.

The first time I realized that something different was happening with my response to movies was in 2013 when I saw J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost. The movie stars Robert Redford as an unnamed sailor (he’s identified only as "Our Man" in the credits) fighting to survive after his boat collides with a shipping container. For 117 minutes, we watch as the elements and luck conspire against him. Dialogue is borderline nonexistent.

It was a small film that had been relegated to the smallest theater and the smallest audience attended. I think there were perhaps only six of us there, maybe eight, and I'm certain that every single one of them could tell that the movie had destroyed me. By the time the credits rolled, I was inconsolable and all too aware that no one else was crying, but I couldn't stop. My entire body shook. I slunk down deep into my seat, wanting to disappear, unable to get up even as the lights came on and the rest of the meager crowd filed out. My boyfriend at the time could only sit next to me, a hand on my shoulder, and wait for me to stop.

“Wow, you’re really going through something, aren’t you?” he’d said.

And I was. I just didn't understand what.

But that was one of the most powerful filmgoing experiences of my entire life. I didn't just like the movie; I was rocked to my core at such a subconscious level it was overwhelming. I was crying harder than I had when my own grandparents died and I had absolutely no idea why. When I think about it now, I like to imagine that this was the moment that taught me to love the way a film can break me down into nothing but a pulsating nerve.

Because here’s the thing: until that moment, every time I’d cried at a movie had made perfect sense to me. I cried at Brokeback Mountain and Titanic and Dear Zachary because they were tragedies. I cried at deaths and rapes because those moments are painful.

All is Lost had none of those. All is Lost is harrowing and thrilling and introspective and maybe even philosophical, but it is decidedly not a tragedy. What was affecting me was something on a deeper, unseen level, and it’s something I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about in the years since.

I remember rewatching the film a couple of years later, this time by myself in my own home. With full knowledge of the beats, I felt prepared for the ending and ultimately curious to see if the experience would repeat itself without that element of surprise.

I was almost shocked when I found myself erupting in tears all over again.

In All is Lost, Our Man is in love with life. He is clinging to it and fighting for it every single step of the way. He does things right and finds himself beaten down anyway. His skill as a sailor is obvious. He is a survivor. A fighter. He wants to live. And the movie punches him down at every turn. His failures are unavoidable. There is little, perhaps nothing at all that he could do differently to save himself. And when he finally gives up, ready to be swallowed whole by the sea, a light appears. And then a hand. And Our Man is saved.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized the movie was giving me permission to connect with my own deeply unshakable love of life and the crying felt like a reminder that I am here in this present moment, very much alive, and that this was something beautiful.

So I cried. 

Because of All is Lost, it finally clicked. I love crying at movies. I love it because it is permission to connect to something so much that the feeling can’t be contained or ignored or repressed. It’s permission to cry in a society where if you can remember the first time you cried, you can probably remember someone standing to the side telling you not to. It’s permission to be your most vulnerable and maybe even your most human.

Now, even when my tears don’t make sense to me at the theater, they feel right because I’m alive. I’m here, and so are so many others and whatever's on screen that's opening the floodgates is just one story out of a billion. Crying connects me a little bit more to all of it.

Good Time


In the back of a cop car, bleached hair askew and a look of Manson-esque intensity on his face, the camera closes in on Connie (Robert Pattinson). Rack focus fades the bars separating the back seat from the front until they’re almost invisible and the passenger looks invincible. This shot from the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time is one of the most memorable of the year. Pattinson’s eyes bore into you, colorless black holes that seem to tell you nothing and everything all at once. Whoever the man was that made his mark in Hollywood thanks to a tween fantasy is completely forgotten. Even Pattinson himself fades away entirely. There’s only Connie.

Constantine “Connie” Nikas, who would seemingly do anything for his mentally disabled brother, whose lies are artful, who’s willing to rob a bank for reasons we never fully understand. Good Time is his story, even if it’s not truly his alone. Vignettes introduce us to other players, but Connie is directing the show. It’s no wonder Pattinson was able to lose himself in such a role.

Good Time is part heist, part drama, part fever dream. It’s also one of the most tactile viewing experiences I had this year. Its frenetic experimental-techno soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never combined with its neon color palette and brilliant sound design evoke grittiness without relying on any of the more common cinematic tropes (you won’t find the trademark blue-and-gray tinting here).

When, after what seems like an incredibly long few scenes, we finally get the title card, it slides onto the screen in a blast THX-esque sound that left me with my mouth agape and the slightest smile on my face. It was reminiscent of a VHS tape and grimy video store floors and the New York of the ‘70s and soundscape of Blade Runner and all of it fit together so seamlessly I couldn’t believe it.

The world of Good Time is so lived in and fully realized and populated, it felt like I could plunge my hands into the movie and pull out its guts with my fists. “World building” so often refers solely to fantasy and sci-fi, but it’s what the Safdie brothers have done here. The New York they explore is technically real, but it’s a version of the city that feels like it’s free-wheeling through space and time. City hospitals, empty amusement parks, and outdated apartments form the backdrop for a mess that unfurls over the course of what can’t be more than 36 hours or so, but what a beautiful mess the Safdies make it.

At the same time, as beautiful as the film may be, it never loses its car-crash quality. We can’t look away, but what’s happening on screen is horrible. There is violence, yes, but the real horror is in Connie’s actions. He rides from scene to scene like a horseman of the apocalypse, bringing utter chaos and destruction to the lives of just about everyone he meets. He lays the world around him to waste, and he either doesn’t know it or he doesn’t care. Anything outside his goal to get his brother out of jail doesn’t matter, including what might be in his brother’s best interest.

Good Time could have been a crime movie that was all flash and no substance, but it manages to be something so much more. It’s reminiscent of the past without being beholden to it, blazing a way forward. Its scenes alternate between a fever pitch and a slow, deliberate unveiling. It’s a good time that’s not concerned with being one. It’s unmissable.

GOOD TIME is playing a limited engagement at The Music Box until February 8.