The premise of 1987’s Overboard is classic rom-com: boy meets girl, girl is rude to boy, girl gets amnesia, boy convinces girl they’re married and have kids, boy gets girl to be a stay-at-home mom, and eventually boy and girl fall for each other. There are complications, to be sure: the boy, Dean (Kurt Russell) is barely getting by while the girl, Joanna (Goldie Hawn) is unspeakably rich—she’s rude to him after he fails to build an acceptable closet in her yacht, refuses to pay him for his time and throws him off it, toolbox and all. When she falls overboard and loses her memory, Dean sees an opportunity for revenge, turning hoity-toity Joanna into “Annie,” his wife who cannot believe she used to live in such squalor with such ill-behaved children.
If these details give you pause you really have not seen just how deliciously funny Goldie and Kurt (a real-life couple) are together and how their chemistry sells this otherwise implausible scenario. It’s the kind of of-its-time comedy you wouldn’t dare remake. And yet here we are in 2018 with a new Overboard, this time starring Anna Farris (of Mom and The House Bunny fame) and Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez. This newer version begs for a comparison even when it truly only borrows the bare bones of the classic film’s plot.
In Pantelion Film’s updated Overboard, written and directed by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, it is not the rich girl who’s rude to the working class boy but the other way around. Also, in casting Derbez and building out the storyline of this spoiled Mexican playboy, the 2018 remake adds a cross-cultural element to the film that’s hard to ignore. Put together they manage to almost muddle the otherwise progressive messages the filmmakers are trying to get across.
When we first meet Goldie’s Joanna in the original Overboard, she’s an over-the-top caricature of a wealthy young woman. She wears outrageous bikinis, giant sun hats, and ridiculous sunglasses, all the while refusing to lift one finger to make the life of her (many) servants easier. Having built a career on playing charming blonde bimbos, Joanna remains a perfect example of what Hawn does best. She may be haughty and she may be insufferable, but she’s engaging—you can’t take your eyes off her. The 2018 version, on the other hand, immediately lays bare how much harder it is to make Derbez’s Leonardo just as lovable. Surrounded by single, beautiful women in bikinis who jet ski alongside him and indulge him when he decides to drink by the hot tub, Leonardo is a cartoon version of a ladies’ man. (One which requires some suspension of disbelief.) Where Joanna’s digs at Russell’s Dean were directed at his seemingly rude manners (she chastises him for not using a fork to eat a sandwich) and his lack of taste (who’d dare make a closet out of oak? she wonders, aghast), 2018’s Overboard makes Leonardo a vain, self-involved lothario who spends his time nitpicking the appearance of Farris’s Kate in their first ever interaction. “You’re very attractive for a carpeting lady,” he tells her when she shows up to clean his yacht’s carpet, “though maybe you could do something with your hair. No, that’s not it,” he concludes. “It’s your face.” The line and delivery are designed to make us see how misguided his outlook on the world (and women!) are, but it’s a hard first impression to shake off.
The movie, thankfully, understands that it needs to soften Leonardo and teach him about the real meaning of life. In that sense, it keeps the original’s spirit intact. The original version’s Joanna gets to learn how to fend for herself as “Annie”, all the while putting her instinctual assertiveness to good use as she stands up to Dean’s throng of young disobedient boys, making them behave in ways Dean never had been able to. In a simplified reading of the film, you’d argue that she learns how to become a “wife and a mother,” reductive roles that spoke to rigid gender norms society places on women. But that discounts the independence that Joanna learns once she stops cashing in on the privilege and power her wealth offer her. With Derbez’s Leonardo, the lessons come down to a bit of the same thing, except there’s a fascinating inquiry into masculinity that runs through this gender-reversed Overboard.
Where “Annie” learning to be a housewife merely reinforces traditional ideas of family, seeing “Leo” take on household duties in an otherwise functional household (Kate’s daughters are a dream to raise) is quietly subversive. Quietly because it really shouldn’t be such a surprise to see a household where a guy takes on responsibilities as his partner studies to get her nursing degree. Leo learns how to cook, how to clean, and on top of that ends up taking a job at a construction site where his Mexican co-workers make fun of his dainty hands and his lack of experience in manual labor. Which is to say, for every progressive image of a housebound, domestically-inclined Leo we get a variety of jokes that stress a traditional kind of masculinity that’s here tied to Mexican machismo. It’s actually surprising that despite being set close to thirty years apart, the takeaway from both films is that women truly can do it all and are the resourceful ones in both relationships, with men, in both instances being the ones that are bettered by having them in their lives.
Overboard, being a high-concept spin on the romantic comedy, depends on the romantic part of the “rom-com” to succeed. And here’s where 2018’s version stumbles. Its gender-reversal and cross-cultural take on the material bring it into the 21st century (and give actors like Club de Cuervos‘s Mariana Treviño a chance to shine in a mainstream American comedy). But Derbez and Farris can’t quite land the romance between the two. It’s not just the age difference (Derbez is close to fifteen years older than his female co-star), though that doesn’t help. Nor the fact that Leonardo is already an outdated comedic trope (did we need another movie where a clueless manchild gets his comeuppance?). Or the fact that Derbez and Farris clearly have different, at times, clashing comedic styles. It’s that scene after scene the two comic superstars never quite find a way to make the romance between their characters believable enough to swallow the outrageous plot that brings them together. It would be silly to just say they’re no Kurt and Goldie, but they’re not. And it’s clear that the chemistry they had back in 1987 was key to making Overboard work. We only wished similar sparks flowed between the leads of this well-intended remake.
Overboard hits theaters May 4, 2018