Ocean’s 8 was the top of the box office this weekend. And it’s little surprise, considering this zippy heist flick is packed with drool-inducing fashion, fun twists, and—most importantly—an ensemble of incredibly cool actresses, including Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rihanna. And while it’s been Blanchett who’s been treating the Kinsey scale of women across America like her personal plaything, it’s Anne Hathaway who proved Ocean’s 8’s dazzling MVP, delivering a supporting turn that was brilliantly funny and a sly send-up of an insulting Hollywood stereotype.
In Ocean’s 8, Hathaway plays Daphne Kluger, an American actress/model who is the celebrity host of this year’s Met Gala, and the mark from whom the titular crew will snatch the Toussaint necklace. Kluger is a gorgeous woman, with a sparkling smile, and an elegant and strong neck that can carry 6 pounds of diamonds with ease and grace. She’s also a bitch. When not performing for the cameras or the press, Kluger’s pristine white teeth are gone, hidden behind a sneer toward her assistant. She’s fixated on the gossip pages that report on a younger, blonder starlet, and how once world-renowned fashion designer Rose Weil might make that blithe ingenue’s gown for the gala. Sulking, Kluger hisses at her assistant, “I didn’t meet with (Rose Weil). You told me I met with everyone.” The harried assistant responds, “You said she was a ‘relic.’” But Kluger with a sharper tongue and sharper stare responds, “I meant ‘iconic.’”
Later, she’ll slink into sex kitten mode, sporting lingerie as daywear, and treating the pout of her lower lip as a snare. She will lure a foolish man anywhere she wants. Kluger is a star accustomed to getting her way. She revels in the validation of fashion designers fussing over her and the big, fat, icy jewelry that makes her a breathy exhibition. She cringes at the thought that such attention is draining away in search of the next It Girl. And Kluger is no fool, though she’ll play one to con the investigating insurance agent (James Corden).
In the third act, much of Debbie Ocean’s crew is shocked when their famous mark swans into the secret hideout, dramatically proclaiming their plan is in peril. That’s when we learn Daphne Kluger is not the superficial bimbo she’d have you believe. She recognizes bad acting. She senses when people are behaving out of character, and can sense when a camera is on her. She’s been onto them for days. And she is one hell of an actress, which is precisely what they need to set up Debbie’s ex.
When asked why this wealthy celebrity would risk her freedom and reputation to join this thieving girl gang, Kluger sheepishly admits that she doesn’t have a lot of close female friends. When someone snarks that she’s doing this because she’s lonely, Kluger bounces her flawless shoulders in a jaunty shrug and says, “Aren’t we all sometimes?” It’s a funny line that could be played as shallow. But Hathaway’s delivery makes this admission frankly sincere, and undeniably charming.
The Academy Award-winning actress with a sterling good girl reputation seems a bizarre choice for this role that is essentially bitch and a bimbo, with a whiff of desperation. Kluger is that bad actress trope that Hollywood too often sells in tabloids and industry gossip. Kluger is sexy, selfish, and seemingly vapid. All attributes that undercut women working in the industry. But Gary Ross and Olivia Milch’s script undercuts this harmful stereotype with that third act reveal that Kluger is no “frickin idiot,” but a clever woman out to get what she wants. In this case, a squad. And Hathaway brings a unique dazzle to the part.
There’s an almost illicit joy in watching the celebrated and winsome Anne Hathaway slump into Ocean’s 8’s answer to the mocking Spongebob meme when she berates her assistant, when she slaps a man hard across the face as a move of aggressive seduction, when gets downright orgasmic as those enormous diamonds are laid across her chest. It’s a joy to watch Hathaway cut loose. And much like Michelle Williams in I Feel Pretty, to see such an admired dramatic actress take on such a definitively silly role throws us into an unexpected realm of suspense. Sure, Hathaway’s done comedy before (Bride Wars, The Intern, Colossal), but as the star. In a supporting role, there’s no map for where she might go. She is freed from being likable. She can flick her French manicure around like a thirsty mean girl. She can wiggle her breasts or bat her eyelashes to play the Marilyn Monroe type that men find alluring, not threatening. She can surprise with a biting punchline. And clearly, Hathaway had an absolute blast doing it. Her elation is contagious.
Watching the film in a nearly sold-out theater, it was clear Hathaway had audiences in the palm of her elegant hand. They howled at her every joke, awed at the generously cut gowns that proudly display her curvy, post-baby body. They cheered as Kluger’s happy ending is revealed. With her $38 million cut as a safety net, or perhaps financing, she’s moving away from the actress/model race that pits her against younger women who are an unlimited resource, and moves into directing, where she (literally) calls the shots. In the end, Kluger makes herself more than a mark. Just as she played the game in Hollywood, she plays the con (wo)man game to get what she desires. With a booming charm, scathing wit, and plenty of va-va-voom, Hathaway brings a sharp dignity to the demeaning “bad actress” stereotype, and loads of fun to boot.