By Preston Wilder
The new Overboard is that rare thing: a remake of an 80s hit that could actually have been made in the 80s. This is not the way it usually goes. The 80s-remake racket – as well as being thoroughly unnecessary – is fraught with self-loathing; these are movies people remember fondly from childhood, yet also simultaneously look down on as being dated and cheesy. The idea is to nod just enough in the direction of the original to jog our middle-aged memories while using irony to make the viewer feel superior (the point is to feel like you ‘own’ your past; it’s therapeutic). Overboard, however, a remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell comedy with the gender roles reversed, couldn’t care less about all that. It’s just a goofy, high-spirited jape, with a very strong working-class vibe and a couple of jokes that might’ve seemed musty even in 1987.
Maybe that’s because it’s now a vehicle for Eugenio Derbez, in the old Goldie Hawn role of the unpleasant rich person who falls off their yacht (the set-up owes a lot to Kipling’s Captains Courageous), develops amnesia, and is basically kidnapped by a poor person they’ve previously wronged. The poor person – in this case Kate, played by Anna Faris – convinces the rich amnesiac (in this case Leo, a Mexican billionaire’s son, played by Derbez) that they’re married, having him get a job and look after ‘their’ kids. The difference in the 30 years since 1987 is the gaping, real-life wealth gap that’s sprung up between idle one-percenters like Leo and harried single mums like Kate, adding teeth to the latter’s deception of the former – and the other difference is the relative disappearance of working-class life from Hollywood rom-coms, most of which have now migrated to glossier urban workplaces in the likes of tech or media.
Both these factors make the old-fashioned, blue-collar Overboard seem like a breath of fresh air (admittedly, I might be overrating it because of that; it’s a fairly predictable rom-com, at the end of the day). A related factor is that Derbez is Mexican, a huge star in Mexico, aiming his gags at a Latino demographic that’s more conservative but also less uptight: as in his previous English-language vehicle, How to Be a Latin Lover, there are jokes here that might seem tasteless, even ‘offensive’. A shark-attack expert gets off the phone, and we see that he only has one arm. Leo, under the impression that he used to be an alcoholic, attends an AA meeting and admits quite honestly that “I don’t really remember my drinking days” (cue nods of recognition from the former alkies). Earlier, still in the hospital, he consults with the doctor then adds, sotto voce, “… and could I also have a prettier nurse?” “She is the pretty one,” replies the doctor – and we cut to the middle-aged matron in question, giving our hero a hard look.
So sexist, right? Maybe, but it’s that kind of movie – the kind, for instance, where Leo’s bromance with a burly Mexican construction crew who teach him the meaning of hard work gets almost as much time as his romance with Kate (Faris’ role unfortunately grows less interesting as the film goes on). Leo is a randy macho type, like the hero of Latin Lover – though Debrez himself is a scrawny, excitable comic, with a taste for pratfalls and the canny air of a cartoon coyote. His vanity is harmless, and finally self-deprecating – the exact opposite of a passive-aggressive comic like, say, Seth Rogen – fitting neatly with Faris who’s always been delightfully ego-free and open-hearted as a comedienne (it’s why she was such a good heroine in those Scary Movies). These are nice people, and the film surrounds them with other nice people; there’s an emphasis on easy camaraderie, and a strong sense of ethnic identity. It may not really earn its happy ending, but it feels like it does.
Overboard is bound to get nasty comments from fans of the original, like last year’s similarly gender-bent Ghostbusters – though the original really isn’t that good (at least in my hazy 80s memory) and this is a more substantial movie anyway, with a few timely digs at life in America where mums work McJobs and builders kill themselves building rich people’s swimming pools: “The land of the free, not the land of the free lunch”. I guess it just feels unusual, making jokes which are not about weed, farts or Facebook, even throwing in a geriatric sub-plot to underline the point that “life is short” – and then you also have weird jokes like the yacht’s Norwegian crew translating everything into Norwegian (why is this even funny?), or Leo telling Kate that what she did was a “low blow” and repeating the phrase over and over, dropping his voice an octave each time. “Low blow… looow blooow… loooooow bloooooow…” It was acceptable in the 80s.
DIRECTED BY Rob Greenberg
STARRING Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, John Hannah
Includes some dialogue in Spanish.
US 2018 112 mins