Movies

Overboard Stays Afloat

A remake overturns a caveman comedy’s 1980s politics.

Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in Overboard.
Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in Overboard.
Pantelion Films

The original Overboard, starring real-life couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, is a velvet-gloved fist of male populist defiance. Marrying shrew-taming misogyny with an eat-the-rich revenge fantasy, director Garry Marshall’s 1987 romantic comedy yokes together a snooty yacht-dwelling heiress and the rural Oregonian contractor she stiffed. Its high-concept, caveman-friendly story wouldn’t fly today, at least for mainstream audiences: The blue-collar hero humiliates an amnesiac heiress through deception and housework (he tells her she’s his wife, and that she used to be very fat) until she falls in love with him and decides, after her memory returns, that her calling in life is to be a housewife and mother of four.

Given the film’s regressive values, it’s safe to say Overboard isn’t the most likely candidate for a 21st-century remake—which makes the flips, reversals, and contortions that the new version, starring Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez, goes through to make the premise palatable to 2018 audiences far more interesting than the plot or characters. In line with the still-reigning Apatovian manboy trend, it’s not the woman but the man who undergoes a domestication. And a bold bid for racial and cultural inclusion finds the bilingual Derbez in his most visible role yet, the original’s gajillionaire jerk rewritten as a cosmopolitan Mexican oligarch, and the unconscionable acts that make up the storyline explicitly likened to twists in a telenovela. Helmed by prolific TV director Rob Greenberg, the result somehow feels both cynical and worthy of celebration.

Hawn and Russell’s chemistry helped usher their Overboard into the rom-com canon. Faris and Derbez have enough sparks, but it’s clear their default comedy styles diverge significantly. Faris plays it more naturalistic as Kate, a full-time pizza delivery driver, part-time carpet cleaner, and widowed single mom. She has no time to study for an upcoming nursing exam and no one to rely on; her flighty mother (Swoosie Kurtz) abandons her in her time of need, and her closest friend Theresa (Eva Longoria) is conveniently (in plot terms) unwilling to help care for Kate’s three daughters. Though Derbez nails his more dramatic scenes, his comic instincts are broader and more slapstick-dependent, and consequently his character feels less defined, more archetypal. The slight clash between the leads’ styles weighs down their meet-ugh scene aboard a yacht, where Derbez’s Leonardo tells Kate that she’s attractive for a cleaning woman, though there’s something about her face he doesn’t quite like. (Eventually, he concludes, it’s her face.) He fires her and declines to pay for her already-completed services when she won’t fetch him some fruit—and when she refuses to leave until she gets her check, he pushes her off the boat, along with the costly cleaning supplies she’d brought with her.

When Leonardo washes ashore with no memory of who he is, Kate is cajoled by Theresa into taking advantage of the situation as compensation for her unpaid labor. “Leo” will earn a paycheck and run the household for the four weeks that Kate needs to focus on her nursing test. Kate gets her comeuppance, Leo develops skills as a cook and parent that he never would have as a ne’er-do-well playboy, and the two grow to treasure their little nest, as do Kate’s daughters. Everything is fine and good until Leonardo’s Dynasty-esque family arrives from Mexico City to collect him, and the amnesiac’s remembrances return.

At nearly two hours, Overboard runs too long, but the scenes and supporting characters that writers Greenberg and Bob Fisher add to the original’s intact skeleton are many of the film’s finest. The internecine feuds among Leonardo’s father (Fernando Luján) and quarreling sisters (Cecilia Suárez and Mariana Treviño) don’t resolve with full satisfaction, but they make for a funny and self-aware melodramatic presence. The always fantastic Mel Rodriguez, playing Theresa’s husband and Leo’s construction boss, is a welcome sprinkle of uncomplicated levity, while his character helps showcase the cultural, linguistic, and economic diversity within Latino communities. Bobby’s construction crew, who mock Leo’s “lady hands,” are played by a notably great ensemble (Josh Segarra, Omar Chaparro, Jesus Ochoa, and Adrian Uribe) that gives the film’s best moment its warm, earthy, slightly tart vitality. Still amnesiac, Leo complains that his life is not what he feels it should be: He should live in a giant mansion, have lots of money, and have sex with his wife at least sometimes. Us too, they laugh, recognizing the gap between where they thought they would be and where they actually are. Us too.

This new Overboard borrows a bit too much from the older version, and is thus saddled with the original’s mawkishness and delusional thinking, like the ideas that there’s something cute about manipulating a psychologically disordered patient—or that forcing someone into humbler circumstances will permanently change them into a humbler person. The new paint job is nice, but the insides may be too creaky to salvage.