Overboard (1987)

So Overboard is about a woman who rips off a guy, falls off her yacht, gets amnesia, and then goes home with said man when he claims that she is his wife. Once they reach his filthy hovel, he makes her clean, cook, and care for his four children. After a while, she starts to believe this lie and he starts to fall in love. Also, this is a comedy.

1987 me is looking at this like LOL, and 2019 me is looking at this like WTF. It’s almost as if this is a horrible story about criminal assault and deception layered on top of deep sexism and misogyny and should never be attempted a second time. How can one watch without considering the fact that Joanna Strayton (Goldie Hawn) is incredibly vulnerable, has no advocate, and doesn’t deserve what happens to her no matter how big a bitch she might be?

Nevertheless, a sick sense of payback is the raison d’être behind this supposed comedy gold. Joanna cuts a ridiculous figure. Her wardrobe contains nothing but sequined swimwear and her diet nothing but caviar that “bursts in the mouth at the precise moment.” She hires Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) to redo her wardrobe, and when he makes the mistake of using oak instead of cedar, she literally throws him off her yacht.

Sure, Joanna is an awful human. She disdains, well, everyone and treats Dean as another one of her disposable hired help. (She also happens to have some great one-liners, which Hawn delivers with gooey condescension.) None of that merits what is to come, however, because while there are plenty of recourses for not getting paid, kidnapping is not one of them.

That doesn’t stop Dean, who, delighted by this turn of events, sings to the tune of “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” that he’s “got a wonderful slave.” He immediately puts Joanna, whom he calls Annie, to work on a house that looks like a wrecking project on a home renovation show. He has the gall to reason that she should do all the housekeeping since he’s the one earning the paycheck. To make things more unbearable, he outsources his beastly children’s well-being to Joanna. It falls on her to make sure they’re clean, fed, and literate. His hands-off approach is rich though since there’s scant evidence he was ever hands-on with his household or parenting duties.

Dean’s go-to trick is to lie to Joanna that she’s never been bothered by this work before, at least he tries this line until she barks back that it bothers her now. It’s a rousing moment, or at least it would be if she wasn’t being cut down again and again. Joanna constantly tries to stand up for herself only to find her efforts dismissed, and isn’t that the story of womanhood. Whether she’s put into the psyche ward for insisting she is who she is, or is not, or demanding proof from Dean that they’ve actually lived a life together, it’s painful to see her groping around for her own identity. Her existence is made worse because everyone around her is profiting from the deception.

I don’t buy the feel-good part of this story, no matter how hard Russell tries to sell me on his roguish charms. In fact, it’s his likability that makes this movie less palatable, not more so. Eventually Dean’s conscience catches up, but only when Joanna settles into this make-believe life he’s created for her and effectively becomes a “good” woman. She changes not only the Proffitt family’s lives for the better but her own as well, if better means not being a materialistic snob. Being worthy or blameless should have never figured into Dean’s decisions in the first place though. That he violated Joanna’s trust and security is entirely on him, and frankly, it’s not very funny.

Released: 1987
Prod: Nick Abdo, Roddy McDowall, Alexandra Rose, Anthea Sylbert
Dir: Gary Marshall
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Cast: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Jamie Wild, Jeffrey Wiseman
Time: 112 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

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