Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez are great, in a remake that’s not.
It’s strange that the 1987 Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell comedy Overboard got a remake, because it is now and always has been a phenomenally creepy idea for a movie. In the original film, Goldie Hawn plays a stuck-up heiress who gets amnesia, and Kurt Russell plays a working class single father who tricks her into thinking she’s his wife and forces her to do all his housework because she was rude to him once. It’s a great plot for a psychological thriller, but for a romantic comedy… not so much.
It’s worth noting that the original Overboard, though built on a creaky foundation, was held aloft by the unbridled likability of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, two of the most reliable movie stars on the planet. And although the remake of Overboard once again suffers from a fundamentally off-putting screenplay, it also holds together better than you might expect, thanks to a cast of affable actors who are doing everything in their power to make this material work.
Overboard stars Anna Faris as Kate, a single mother with three kids, two jobs, an eviction notice, and an upcoming exam to become a licensed nurse. When she takes a job cleaning carpets on board a yacht, she meets a selfish billionaire cad named Leonardo (Eugenio Derbez), who treats her like trash, calls her ugly, refuses to pay for her services, throws her overboard, and trashes her equipment, making her lose her job and forcing her to pay $3,000 for the broken carpet shampooer.
So when Leo falls overboard himself, and gets amnesia, Kate decides that it’s only fair to make this rich schmuck who’s never had to work a day in his life, and who owes her thousands of dollars, pay off his debt. And of course, she does this by committing felony fraud and kidnapping, tricking Leo into thinking he’s her husband by forging legal documents, and forcing him to live with her family and work backbreaking physical labor at a construction company to pay off her debts while she studies for her upcoming exam.
If anyone deserves karmic punishment, there’s a good chance it’s Leo, but after he falls and gets amnesia, he’s not the same person. He’s still a Grade-A jerk, but it’s hardly justice to punish him for something he doesn’t remember doing. Even forcing him to live in relative poverty isn’t particularly funny, since he doesn’t remember living any other way. He’s just generally disappointed that he’s poor. From Leo’s perspective he isn’t a victim of tragic irony, he’s a victim of existential hopelessness. And existential hopelessness is rarely, if ever, hilarious.
All of this is a shame, because Eugenio Derbez is exceptionally well cast as a scoundrel who becomes a decent human being. Even early on, when Leo is merely a selfish jerk, Derbez plays him as though he’s a helpless baby who even needs outside help to decide what sort of fruit he’s in the mood for. He hasn’t evolved into a monster, he’s just never evolved at all, which gives him plenty of room to grow over the course of the film, and a reason for him to be genuinely soulful as learns important life lessons.
Derbez is matched at every turn by Anna Faris, an actor so fundamentally charming that you almost forget her character is doing monstrous things. Almost. And both Faris and Derbez are nearly overshadowed by a superb supporting cast, including Eva Longoria and Mel Rodriguez as Kate’s co-conspirators, John Hannah as Leo’s valet, and Cecilia Suárez as Leo’s scheming sister, who lets the whole family think Leo is dead so she can take over the company.
That last plot point feels more at home in a soap opera than anywhere else, and that’s something Overboard acknowledges. Repeatedly throughout the movie, we see people watching telenovelas with plots that aren’t terribly dissimilar from the plot of Overboard. But the difference is that those stories take place in a heightened world where strangeness feels natural, where storytellers can get away with just about anything because just about anything happens on a regular basis.
Overboard takes place in a seemingly real world, in which something bizarre just happens to have happened. So when the movie comes right out and says its plot is just like a soap opera, it rings false, because it’s only calling attention to how bizarre everything is, rather than creating an entertaining world in which bizarre things are possible. Which probably would have been a more effective approach.