By: Steve Pulaski
Here’s a genuine question for everyone: why are American romance films so frequently mean-spirited? If it’s not The Fault in Our Stars romanticizing cancer or Midnight Sun painting a crippling genetic disease as the equivalent of intermittent fainting, it’s a remake of a dusty, 30-year-old comedy about a relationship inspired by kidnapping and deception. Rob Greenberg’s Overboard is based on the Garry Marshall/Leslie Dixon comedy from 1987, which starred Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and its existence suggests Hollywood has moved on from remaking good movies to remaking even the lesser ones too.
There are two notable differences in Greenberg’s film. For one, the genders are swapped. Undoubtedly reworked in order to avoid the icky gender-politics that have made the original age like $5 wine, the remake involves a woman taking advantage of a wealthy man who suffers from amnesia — as if that makes it worlds better. Moreover, the film is the first American film for Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, the star of breakout successes Instructions Not Included and How to be a Latin Lover, and it’s his presence that makes this film’s subplot bilingual as well. It’s different enough in order for the screenplay to have a sense of urgency (in the original, Goldie Hawn’s husband was overjoyed to be rid of her and that was more-or-less the extent of his grief), but not enough for the film to be feel like it’s not the overlong bore it so often is.
Anna Faris, whose presence in films has taken a backseat since her role on CBS’s Mom, plays Kate, a widower living in Oregon with three daughters. She works for a pizzeria and a cleaning service while studying for her nursing exam that will hopefully bring more stability and income to her full house. One of her cleaning assignments is shampooing the carpets on Leonardo Montenegro’s (Derbez) yacht. Leonardo’s father is the owner and founder of a billion dollar empire, so all he has to do is find a way to spend his inheritance as his dad lies on his deathbed and his sisters play damage control. A fight between Kate and Leonardo leads to him tossing her and her equipment overboard without paying her. The next night, Leonardo falls overboard and washes ashore in Kate’s sleepy town with no memory of who he is.
After hearing the news, Kate’s friend and boss, Theresa (Eva Longoria), convinces her to exact revenge on the pompous heir by going to the hospital and pretending Leonardo is her husband. It’s the perfect plan: they fake a few important documents, set him up with Theresa’s husband Bobby’s (Mel Rodriguez) construction company, and he can keep Kate and her children afloat while she prepares for her nursing exam. This plan is made possible after Leonardo’s sister, Magdalena (Cecilia Suarez), sees her brother’s trauma as an opportunity to pull the rug out from under her father and maintain control of the family’s company. Soon enough, love is in the air between the Kate and Leonardo despite the foul play at hand.
Much of Overboard‘s humor comes from Leonardo’s incompetence at blue-collar labor (Bobby and his troupe of laborers nickname him “manitas” or “lady hands”), the lengths Kate goes to cover-up her lie, and dated Seattle Seahawks references involving quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Of course, despite intense skepticism this was ever his life to begin with, Leonardo becomes determined to surprise both himself and Kate with all that he can do. He teaches the girls how to ride a bike, he becomes proficient with cooking spaghetti sauce, and he handles all the chores typically expected of Kate.
Marshall’s Overboard benefited from two likable leads in Russell and Hawn that managed somewhat to undermine the deception ingrained in the film’s premise in order to erect believable chemistry. Little remnants of romance exist between Faris and Derbez, largely because Leonardo has been so cruel to Kate (debatably moreso than Hawn to Russell) that it’s hard to believe Kate would fall for him under any circumstance. Furthermore, the chemistry the two do have is along the lines of coworkers or friends as opposed to romantic partners. Kate seems to appreciate Leonardo because of the low expectations she had for him and his eventual usefulness to her.
The funniest scenes in Overboard come when Leonardo is struggle-bussing alongside Bobby and his coworkers while trying to build an in-ground pool for a client. He cannot push a wheelbarrow or haul supplies due to his unfamiliarity with manual labor. While sitting with the other men, Leonardo gets acquainted with life on the other-side in a way that charmingly avoids the “grass is greener” subtext and opts for a more genial, shoulder-punch explanation of what he’s been grateful to miss his entire life. These moments also take us away from the redundant ineptitude of Leonardo adopting to domestic life; much of it directly repeated from the 1987 film.
With Faris and Derbez greatly robbed of chemistry, and Faris feeling restrained, unable to commit to her free-spirited, daffy brand of comedy, the most noteworthy performance of the hour is from Mel Rodriguez. Rodriguez opts for a breezy, eminently likable character, known as “Gordo” by his associates, and is good for a laugh every time he’s on-screen. It makes sense that director/co-writer Greenberg has a background in sitcoms (How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs) because he makes solid use of a character he doesn’t have to develop too devoutly. Just like the larger film, any more weight piled onto Rodriguez’s character and he would’ve likely crumbled.
Overboard is so close to its original that it’s nearly a carbon-copy, save for aforementioned details, to the point where your opinion on this shouldn’t/wouldn’t be too different from the Russell/Hawn endeavor. The weaker spots with this one come in the lack of chemistry and redundant scenes involving Leonardo’s fumblings that bloat the runtime near two hours. If the intention was to remake a middling eighties comedy only a handful can recall, it would’ve been wiser to spend the money on a film with a stronger concept or one that knew how to best utilize Faris and Derbez.
Hollywood has reached a point where even the faintest “brand recognition” of a forgotten property holds more weight than something different, and that’s a reality I don’t want to see come to fruition any further — at least to the point where we see a Steel Magnolias or Seems Like Old Times remake.