“Ocean’s 8” set an Ocean’s caper comedy record on its opening weekend at the box office. It did this in spite of mixed to barely passable reviews, by and large, and the less than stellar exit-polling rating in the “B” range. “A, A+ or A-” are most often the Cinemascore rule when audiences are rating a film they have chosen to go to because it matches up with their interests, and have then shelled out $14-20 a ticket to reinforce that preconceived opinion.
The film’s second weekend was not a nose-dive, but a still troublesome 53% drop from that opening, below expectations.
And the reason for this push-back, says one of the film’s supporting players, Mindy Kaling, is because “white male movie critics” didn’t get it, or went after it. Or are holding her back. Something along those lines.
With the sea change in criticism in recent years, I wonder if she’s simply not basing her annoyance on an outdated model of movie reviewing. Yeah, there are plenty of white males doing it (Me, for instance). But scan through Metacritic or any other review aggregator and you’ll see a lot more female faces and names, though perhaps not the racial diversity you’d want.
Audiences rejecting the movie on its second weekend had little to do with reviews, but if the reviews broke down on gender lines (as with the female “Ghost Busters”) as she maintains, she may have a point — or half a point. And God help me if I am making her point for her in complaining about her simplistic “shoot the messenger” jibe.
But audiences bailed on “Ghost Busters” for the same reason they’re moving on from “Ocean’s” — it’s a gimmick remake, and not nearly funny enough. The critics who pointed this out were merely stating the obvious.
If anything, like “Busters,” “Oceans” demonstrates how the few female-centric movies that come along that get a much bigger break, by and large, from the sisters of criticism than they do from the guys.
But there are other issues about the movie that Kaling might want to chew over.
There are so many women in it that she had basically one good scene, two and a half, three and a half scenes total.
And the casting of the women has something else that calls attention to itself. Every woman in it is glammed up and given the most flattering camera coverage possible. Every actress and the character playing her got to load up in Met Gala glamwear (see the photo above).
The central characters are played by Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and all are and have been widely acknowledged great screen beauties of their day.
The women of color in the film? Mindy Kaling, Awkafina and Rihanna. Rihanna, like the Kardashians and Minaj and Cardi B and other skin-flashing/sexy image peddling self-made women who are phenomena in the culture, is altering legacy standards of what’s widely accepted as beauty. Striking, but is RiRi on a par with Halle/Gugu/Kiersey Clemons? You know, gorgeous actresses of color?
Why were these the women the big stars/studio/director chose to cast in supporting roles? If they were going for funniest, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany H., Wiig and others would have been in the conversation as support. Instead, we get a “funny looking” (look at the way they dress Awkwafina) confused with “funny” rule of thumb. We get check-box diversity casting and of those check-boxes only Rihanna is an Instagram bombshell, and not one of three of them was given much of anything funny to play. The studio merely filled those ethnic check boxes, cast more pedestrian looking women of color in support to be “unthreatening” to the talented, better known and more conventionally beautiful leads. Who also, by the way, have little funny to say or do.
There’s some questionable deference, some old school Hollywood pandering to ethnic corners of the audience, that’s anything but modern and “empowering.”
So “Ocean’s” strikes me as having a lot more questions Kaling could be asking herself, her agent, et al. Demanding that film criticism operate on some grade-on-the-gender/racial/etc curve, that it pander in a cast-diverse-actresses-but-don’t-threaten-the-leads way, as “Ocean’s 8” plainly did, is the least of them.