When we meet socialite Daphne Kluger, Anne Hathaway’s character in Ocean’s 8, the 2018 crime caper and sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, she’s acting as part of the host committee for the Met Gala, where the heist at the center of the film will take place. While in this instance her character is putting a reporter in their place, telling them she doesn’t know who will be dressing her for the ball yet, everything else about her character is peak Anne Hathaway — overexposed, performative, self-serious — or at least peak how we felt about Anne Hathaway throughout the majority of the 2010s.
Let’s cast our minds back to the 2011 Academy Awards, when Hathaway hosted the ceremony alongside James Franco, which arguably started our souring to the actress. In her opening monologue, she was painfully exuding a try-hard theater-kid persona, to say nothing of her emotionally blank co-host, who was giving nothing but sketchy vibes (Franco would be accused of sexual misconduct by multiple young women between 2014 and 2019).
The Oscars continued to be a bad omen for Hathaway. The actress won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Fantine in Les Misérables in 2013, but her acceptance speech was seen as too earnest and inauthentic, a poor attempt at humility in the vein of Sally Field’s “you really like me” monologue that read as rehearsed.
Post-Oscar, Hathaway retreated slightly from this focused spotlight, using her time as Hollywood’s fallen darling to take on smaller, out-of-the-box roles, such as in Colossal opposite Jason Sudeikis as a Nice Guy™. She went on to prove that, while critics were sick of her, she was still a bankable star who excels in traditional box-office roles, with 2015’s The Intern banking more than six times its production budget.
Meanwhile, Hathaway deployed interviews and game shows to prove that those unfortunate Oscar gaffes were how most people would react under enormous pressure at their industry’s biggest event. Public speaking is one of the most common fears for a reason, people! She smashed — literally — a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” on Lip Sync Battle, and she joked that Gone Girl is her favorite rom-com. I maintain that she and Megan Thee Stallion would be the best celebrities to hang out with.
This melding of drama geek (see: “Wrecking Ball”) with dry humor demonstrated not necessarily a new Anne Hathaway, but one who had seen some stuff and realized that she couldn’t control how we perceived her, so she was going to have fun with it.
“Ten years ago, I was given an opportunity to look at the language of hatred from a new perspective,” she said at last year’s Elle Women in Hollywood event. “I realized I had no desire to have anything to do with this line of energy. On any level. I would no longer create art from this place.”
And that’s exactly what she did with Ocean’s 8. She starred alongside Sandra Bullock, who portrayed the late Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) formerly incarcerated sister Debbie Ocean, as well as Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Nora “Awkwafina” Lum, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, and Helena Bonham Carter in what remains an underrated but low-stakes flick five years after its release. As Daphne, Hathaway throws all the insults hurled at her against the wall, which was cathartic for her. “It just felt great, and to play someone who … takes herself so seriously, and is so insufferable, came very naturally to me,” Hathaway told The Hollywood Reporter.
Debbie and her accomplice, Lou (Blanchett), peg Daphne early as the perfect distraction for their jewel heist. Her vanity and envy lead her to “choose” Bonham Carter’s Rose Weil, a flailing fashion designer, to dress her for the Met. The centerpiece of her look will be a $150 million Cartier necklace that Debbie and her gang of misfits will print a 3D replica of to place around Daphne’s neck as she’s “barfing my guts up” — her words — while they make off with the genuine article.
But women who trade on their looks and perceived empty-headedness are usually smarter and more observant than people give them credit for, because they use this misconception to manipulate, code-switch, and evade those who might seek to keep them in that box. Daphne is one such person and cottons to what Debbie et al. are doing and wants in on the deal.
It’s also worth noting that women who look like Daphne, or more to the point, the actress who plays her, are often allowed to slip back into the upper echelons of society once we’ve decided we’re done hating them. Look at the other women to whom this has happened: Jennifer Lawrence was similarly overexposed and dipped out of Hollywood for a few years but is set to return later this month with the comedy film No Hard Feelings. Or Taylor Swift, who, like Hathaway a year earlier, said in 2015 that she was going to take some time off because people were sick of her — and that was before the unfortunate Kanye incident of 2016, which spawned the album Reputation, which had a definite lean into the Daphne Kluger energy.
This is different from the cultural reckoning toward maligned women of the ’90s and 2000s, like Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky, and Paris Hilton, although it’s all part of the same phenomenon (misogyny. It’s misogyny.) All Hathaway, Lawrence, and Swift did was be annoying; Spears and Lewinsky had some major machinations working against them, and it’s frankly a miracle that they, and women who’ve experienced similar things, survived and are thriving. If they’re struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, or other afflictions, or are non-white, they’re more likely to be forgotten about or tossed aside, like Winona Ryder after her 2001 shoplifting incident or Janet Jackson, who finally got her due in the form of a docuseries last year.
This is to say nothing of the problematic men who are continuously lauded and allowed to continue on in their fields. I challenge you to peruse the “legal troubles” section of many male celebrities’ Wikipedia pages to see what wrongdoings they’ve been accused of, whereas Jackson merely showed her breast, and Hathaway was too excitable.
That’s why she plays Daphne perfectly, all the way from her square-cut French tips to her expressive eye rolls. The scene in which Rose tries to placate Daphne when she expresses uncertainty at the necklace, hyperventilating and experiencing body dysmorphia, and later in the movie when Daphne plants evidence in the apartment of her Met Gala date — who just so happens to be Debbie’s ex and the man who framed her — easily transmogrifying from sex siren to woman on a mission with a knowing hair flip and lip purse are Hathaway at her most self-aware and engrossing. The film showed that Hathaway’s not afraid to laugh at herself and that she’s in on the joke.
And wouldn’t you know it? The moviegoing public agreed. Ocean’s 8 made more than $200 million over its budget, and while reviews were mixed, the consensus seemed to be that the “Anneaissance” was upon us.
Sure, Hathaway’s roles following Ocean’s 8 were iffy — a love interest who’s bipolar in Modern Love and WeWork head honcho Adam Neumann’s wife, Rebekah Neumann, in WeCrashed being standouts. But like Daphne’s association with designer Rose Weil, the enduring images of the Anneaissance don’t have much to do with Hathaway’s acting at all. Instead, she’s been acting as a muse for fashion houses, showing up to Valentino’s Rome fashion show last year in Barbiecore hot pink, shaking off the #Hathahate to “Lady Marmalade” in the designer’s leopard-print dress at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year, and looking effortless and coiffed to perfection as Donatella Versace’s date to the 2023 Met Gala. The perfect summation of self-awareness and fun that Hathaway has arguably always been. It’s just now that we finally realize it too.