BY SABA FIAZUDDIN ’21
The Mount Holyoke Film Society held their first event of the semester on Friday, a screening of the feature film, “Ocean’s 8.” The film stars Sandra Bullock (“Miss Congeniality”) as Debbie Ocean, the sister of the original franchise’s iconic character Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney, “Up In the Air”). When the film opens, Debbie has just been granted parole after imprisonment on charges of fraud. She immediately hits the streets of New York and puts in motion another high stakes heist by bringing together a sisterhood of thieves, hackers and hustlers to accomplish it.
As the first all-female installment in the highly successful Ocean’s franchise, what Ocean’s 8 manages to get right is its focus on female characters. Thanks to a powerhouse cast that includes the dynamic talents of Bullock, Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Rihanna (“Home”), Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”), Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story”), Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”) and up-and-comer Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”), the message is clear: we need to see more women in film. Not in the backgrounds, playing supporting roles to men, but front and center.
Carmela Mooney ’21, co-director of the Film Society, believes it was important to highlight the work of inspiring women in film for the org’s first screening. “Ocean’s 8 is a truly significant film that shows the importance of having more female leads in movies,” said Mooney.
An attendee of the screening, Qanetah Shahzad ’21, was struck by the film. “I remember watching it and thinking this really can’t be the first time I am seeing so many women in one film where the plot doesn’t revolve around some guy,” said Shahzad. “I think that feeling [was] reflected in others as well.”
The Film Society chose the movie via student vote. “We usually try to have a poll sent out to the mailing list at the beginning of the week with a few movies with one central theme that people can vote for,” said Film Society co-director Sylvia Freifeld ’19. “Our theme [this week] was female-led movies, the options on the poll being ‘Clueless’, ‘Arrival’, and ‘Ocean’s 8’. ‘Ocean’s 8’ won by a landslide but we may still show the other two at a different point in the year,” said Freifeld.
The movie attracted a larger audience than usual. The audience responded well, with laughter and applause to the star cast, further demonstrating just how rare these moments are in cinema. “A lot more people came to the screening than we had originally planned for. We ended up having to borrow chairs from classrooms next door, and even then some people had to sit on the floors,” Mooney added.
Sharunya Shailesh ’20 is a regular at Film Society screenings and was also shocked at the attendance. “I have been to many screenings before, but this was the first time I saw so many people,” said Shailesh. She also appreciated the women-led aspect of the movie and thought it “really captured for me just how much of a watershed moment [the film] is.”
Some have critiqued “Ocean’s 8” for failing to dazzle during heist sequences in comparison to its predecessors, but the movie is still quite thrilling. The plot follows Debbie’s elaborate plan to get into the most exclusive party of the year, the Met Gala, to steal a Cartier necklace worth $150 million. The heist is fun, entertaining and outrageous, but what really shines in every scene is the brilliant character comedy, including the playful relationship between Bullock and Blanchett’s characters.
Also notable are the talented Bonham Carter as a failed flaky fashion designer and Paulson as a suburban mom who is secretly a hustler by night. The stars aren’t able to reach their full potentials, however, because the film doesn’t allow the characters to develop enough. “Ocean’s 8” wants us to focus on the heist, when what the audience really wants is to see more of the sisterhood.
“Film Society is affiliated with the film studies department here, but it is also meant to be a very relaxed, no pressure, enjoyable org,” said Freifeld. “We try to show films that people might not have seen before and that people will want to come see.” The “Ocean’s 8 screening was a success among students, and many look forward to similar events happening in the future. “This is hopefully the first of many more female-led films I’ll get to see here,” said Shahzad.