The Girls Can’t Help It

ocean's 8 actresses on premiere red carpet
Ocean’s 8 premiere in NYC. The 8 showing their true selves. Photo by Matt Baron for REX/Shutterstock.

Fashion people look for different things in movies than regular people do.

Like many of my friends, I went to see Ocean’s 8 in order to see how the premise would fare with a cast of 8 famous women instead of 11 famous men. But they did a silly thing, thinking it would help capture the imagination of (generic?) women*: they set the caper into the Met Gala. This is a fashion event I know well. I did an internship in the Costume Institute and got to attend one year. Since then, I have carefully watched, and reported on, the fashion that walks up that staircase.

Anne Hathaway as glamorous actress Daphne Kluger in Ocean's 8
Anne Hathaway, as a chair of the Costume Institute Gala, gown by Sarah Edwards, costumer for Ocean’s 8. Photo by David Lee.



For a movie about NYC’s biggest fashion night, the clothes in Ocean’s 8 were pretty Meh. I get the argument that these women were acting the part of thieves, so trying *not* to draw attention to themselves. But these 8 actresses are some of the most fashionably conspicuous women in the world. Surely their costumes could have riffed off that more?

Anne Hathaway’s character, who was one of the gala chairs, should surely have been wearing something drop-dead and fantastic. I give you comparisons from the real MMA gala:





In contrast, Katy Perry as co-chair of the 2017 Met Gala:

Katy Perry, wearing Maison Margiela for Met Gala May 2017.
Katy Perry, wearing Maison Margiela for Met Gala May 2017. Photo by Getty.

Or Rihanna, one of the co-chairs of this season’s Gala, with the Heavenly Bodies theme:

Rihanna dressed for Met Gala 2018
Rihanna’s look for Costume Institute Gala 2018.  Ensemble by Maison Margiela. Photo by Ian West, PA Wire.
Rihanna dressed for Met Gala in Ocean's 8
Rihanna’s look for Met Gala in Ocean’s 8. Gown by Zac Posen. Photo by Barry Wetcher.













Rihanna’s impishness is radically underutilized in this film as well. The costumes that worked best, I think, were Cate Blanchett’s groovy pantsuits with the Keith Richards feeling, seen below. But the heart of this is that the costume designer, Sarah Edwards, just really doesn’t understand the Met Gala.

This movie has earned a lot of commentary:

New York Times review of Ocean’s 8

Fashion Bloggers Tom & Lorenzo’s review of Ocean’s 8

Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter on set in NYC
Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, & Helena Bonham Carter seen on set of ‘Ocean’s 8’ on October 26, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images.



For people who were excited or angry or just tired of the idea that a major film should be cast with not just 1, but 8 major female leads, there was a lot of ink spilled. I have to agree: the skill of those 8 powerful actresses was way underutilized, their thoughts were too focused on the brother and the insurance agent, they were too nice to be human beings, and none of them got anything interesting in the way of character development.

New York Times article about problematic gender swapping films

All of It blog commentary on hopes for Ocean’s 8 film




I still enjoyed it. Because it was shot in New York City, and it was heartwarming to pick out the familiar places (Veselka!!). And the Met has been one of my educational homes (Yay, MMA!!). And I love a caper show! (Loved all of Hustle and How to Steal a Million!)

Time magazine’s homage to the caper film

The art world got a cinematic love letter! The Met as the main set! Art galleries and auction houses as part of the plot!

Artnet blog extolls Metropolitan Museum of Art’s starring role in Ocean’s 8

Sandra Bullock on stairs at MMA in Ocean's 8
Bullock’s Alberto Ferretti gown for the Met Gala in Ocean’s 8. So very Meh. Photo by Barry Wetcher.



We give the film organization major kudos for their homework on the fake Met exhibition in the film. It looked plausibly Costume Institut-ish, if a tad 70s in the mannequin choices. I’m always happy to see the Met get publicity. Besides that, the art directors did their homework. The film credits FIT Museum Associate Curator of Costume Molly Sorkin for her consulting on the setup of a costume exhibition, along with Jennifer Park and Hamish Bowles of Vogue magazine. In fact, the film is studded with fashion journalists, designers, and style influencers, in an attempt to lend verisimilitude to the on-screen gala. Even Anna Wintour got a cameo.

Vogue article by Hamish Bowles about Ocean’s 8 fake exhibition

Photo of Costume Institute exhibition in Ocean's 8.
Imitation exhibition for Met Gala in Ocean’s 8. Staged by Hamish Bowles.

Finally, it was just nice to watch talented actresses interact with one another in a setting that presumes their intelligence and displays their senses of humor and camaraderie**.

New York Times interview with Bullock, Kaling

I hope you enjoy the film!

Publicity still for Ocean's 8, principle cast on subway.
Publicity still for Ocean’s 8, principle cast. The coats here completely outdo the eveningwear in later scenes. Photo from Warner Bros.

* What do women (generic) want, really? Is there even such a Thing??

**Have you ever noticed how, in your real life, there are slightly more women around you than there are men? Now count the number of women to men in the next movie you go see. Weird, huh? In the article linked above, Sandra Bullock calls it “actress solitary confinement”. Here are some statistics on that phenomenon:

See Jane organization’s research on women in film










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4 Responses to The Girls Can’t Help It

  1. John Ashby says:

    From the early 1930’s up until very recently with some of the Disney films, THE most likely buyer of a movie theater ticket was a male age 16 to age 25. That was THE market for about 80 years. Young males. Not too surprising, most films were produced to appeal to that buyer. So, you got HERO’s and slightly dressed beautiful young women as characters in those movies. To sell a movie ticket to that market, the HERO’s had to have at least some acting talent and developed skills (which meant actors pushing age thirty or even older playing men barely old enough to shave a couple times a week), and women of unusual beauty (which meant younger women, often with little acting talent) hanging around. For eighty years that was THE market. Many, many movies were made to appeal outside the core movie ticket buyer market, but thousands more were made to appeal directly to those young males itching to buy a movie ticket. Making movies aimed at the core market was (and still is) a more reliable way to make money making movies. Young males will buy tickets to most any movie with a HERO and a couple of beautiful chicks in it. Because I was once a young male shaving maybe a couple times a week (and fighting a live fire war, with real bullets in the air), I understand that.

    • Beth says:

      It might be that if more movies had well-written female characters and plot lines that girls and women would have gone to more movies. Representation matters. And a lot of the attendance at films for that age group is in dates, so still a steady stream of young women.

      • John Ashby says:

        Beth, if you think there is a market there, go for it! Disney is making the “Frozen” movies right now, and people ARE buying tickets. THE way to make a movie typically IS to get your hands on an excellent script with market potential, line up much of the acting/directing/producing talent needed, THEN convince investors to put cash money on the table. TNT (Tried N True) movie tropes are the easiest to find financing for. The Writer’s Guild West reportedly has “somewhere” between 300,000 and 1,500,000 scripts registered, ready for production. Hollywood makes typically less than 700 movies a year. Yet, the Coen Brothers from St Louis Park, Minn produced a movie called “Fargo” about a used car salesman from Minneapolis on a seriously low budget of $7,000,000. If you think there is a market for a movie about fashion, look at what Kate Winslet actress, Roselie Ham writer, Jocelyn Moorhouse director/producer did for the movie, “The Dressmaker”.

        • Beth says:

          Disney has been doing some pretty amazing storylines with their recent animations. “Tangled” was a brilliant (and scary) portrait of emotional abuse. “Inside Out” was well researched and told. And their recent heroines have been much more gutsy and self-determining than those of their ’50s heyday. Still, it would be nice to have some older heroines on regular film.

          Film making is not my art, but I am happy to advocate! :)

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