Lazy Summer Movie Fun: Overboard at 30

Today, on my first duty day of the 2017-2018 academic year, I need to reflect on the blissful three months of vacation that have come and gone. It was a pretty chill summer. I spent a lot of time doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the hell out of it. After several summers of hectic activity (caring for ill parents, managing my late father’s unfinished estate business, traveling to Europe and across the country), I needed the down time. I feel rested and refreshed.

Oh, I did get just a little tired of all the relaxation in early August, but not to the degree that Goldie Hawn’s character in the 1987 movie Overboard feels fatigued by her leisurely lifestyle. Thirty years after its release, Overboard is still as delightful now as it was when it first hit theaters. It’s one of my go-to couch potato movies that I watch at least once or twice a year. This summer was no exception.

I didn’t see Overboard when it premiered in theaters. About ten years ago, my parents told me what a funny movie it is, so I began to watch it regularly with them.  One of the memories I’ll cherish is sitting in front of my parents’ television in the final few years they were in good health, eating junk food and laughing with them at Hawn’s masterful performance.

 Hawn plays Joanna Stayton, a wealthy, pampered, but miserable heiress. Ungrateful for her fortunate lot in life, she takes out her frustrations on her servants and anyone else who crosses her path, including “sweaty carpenter” Dean Proffitt (played by Hawn’s real-life partner Kurt Russell), whom she summons to remodel her closet when she and her husband, Grant Stayton III (played by Edward Hermann), must dock their luxurious yacht in fictional Elk Cove, Oregon (“Elk Snout” as she disdainfully hisses), for engine repairs.

Predictably, Joanna finds Dean’s carpentry work unacceptable (he used oak, not cedar, to remodel the closet), so she refuses to pay him the $600 she owes him. She pushes him off the boat and into the water, but not before he drops a truth bomb on her head: “You’re so goddamned bored, you’ve gotta invent things to bitch about. You haven’t got a single thing on this earth to do except for your hair. Your closet was fine. You just needed something to take up your useless, empty, nail-polishing, toe-polishing, rich-bitch, sun-tanning day.” Dean’s words bring about approval and applause from the yacht’s crew, eavesdropping through the intercom. But even more significantly, though Joanna refuses to acknowledge it to Dean (or to herself), his words have struck a nerve.

What follows is a hilarious, screwball reversal of fortune for Joanna, when she suffers amnesia after falling off the yacht the evening it leaves Elk Cove. She ends up being picked up by the Elk Cove garbage scow and placed in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital, where she terrorizes the medical staff. Seeing an opportunity to get rid of his surly wife once and for all, Grant decides against retrieving Joanna and denies to the authorities that he even knows her.  He leaves her in the hospital to fend for herself. Back at the yacht, he says, “Mrs. Stayton has decided to leave me. Let’s celebrate!”

 When Dean learns who the “mystery woman” in the hospital is, he shows up and pretends she’s his wife and the mother of his four children. He is seeking revenge and an opportunity to get her to work off her debt to him. When he takes his “wife” back to his run-down house and says, “Welcome home, baby,” Joanna replies, “I feel faint.” Things get even worse for her as Dean hands her a list of daily chores, which include cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, and other ordinary tasks that are completely alien to the snobby socialite.

She has difficulty coming to terms with her lower-middle-class life but soon begins to adapt–and even thrive–in her more modest reality. Ultimately, Dean and “Annie,” as he calls Joanna, fall in love, and she learns a few lessons about compassion, humility, and gratitude.

Overboard is a light-hearted comedy, but its message about class snobbery and the struggles of working people is still relevant. Hawn expertly dramatizes Joanna’s obliviousness to the feelings of her employees in an exchange with her butler Andrew (played by Roddy McDowell), who brings her caviar on a silver tray. Joanna first says, huffily, “Well! I almost had to wait.” In Joanna’s demanding world, it isn’t enough to be johnny-on-the-spot. You have to be earlier than johnny-on-the-spot. Then when she tastes the caviar, she grimaces and demands of him, “What is this gelatinous muck? Andrew, when I tell you to pack staples, must I specify you pack good caviar and not this $1.99 fish bait?” She gets Dean’s attention when she says, “Caviar should be round and hard and of adequate size. And it should burst in your mouth at precisely the right moment.”

 Joanna’s exacting standards are not completely negative, however. Once she begins to function as the Proffitt boys’ mother, she instills order and discipline in their lives and helps them improve their grades. This kind of stability had been missing in their relationship with their father because he worked two jobs and thought being a pal to his sons was sufficient.

The movie has earned a sort of cult status over the years. Many of the famous lines (“I’m a short, fat slut) are highly recognizable to the average moviegoer. Though thirty years old, Overboard is only dated because it’s a sweet, happy-ever-after movie. The snark of the young boys and Hawn’s delivery give the movie a contemporary feel and help it resonate with younger audiences.

A remake of Overboard is scheduled for release in the spring of 2018. The new movie will star Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez. Rumor is that the original plot will be altered so that Derbez is a rich playboy who mistreats Faris, his working-class employee. I’m not sure how I feel about this change in the script. In the original, it is Joanna who has all the money and changes Dean’s financial circumstances, though not until Dean secures the money on his own for the miniature golf course he and his friend Billy want to build. The new movie seems a bit retro and old fashioned (the man has the money and saves the girl). Still, I’ll wait and see it before I render a verdict. Faris certainly has the skill to follow in Hawn’s footsteps, so she may be a pleasant surprise.

For now, I’ll just say happy 30th birthday to the original Overboard and put the DVD back on the shelf until the next time I have another glorious, lazy summer day with nothing to do.  Until then, it’s back to work!