'Overboard' Review: A Romcom Remake That's Better Than The Original

As is perhaps only fitting for a romantic comedy, there's a lot to love in the new Overboard. Lest we forget, the main reason the original Overboard (released in 1987) works is through sheer force of charm — Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are unstoppable. But even so, it's not a film that plays particularly well to a modern audience. A man kidnapping an amnesiac woman to turn her into a housewife is creepy at best. The kiss that Russell plants on Hawn when he comes to pick her up at the hospital is just the tip of the iceberg. As such, it's difficult (in a vacuum, at least), to imagine a remake going well. But Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez, under the direction of Rob Greenberg, have made something great.

With Faris in the Russell role and Derbez in the Hawn role, the film is already fundamentally different — and, dare I say, better. As Leonardo Montenegro, Derbez is the rich, entitled brat, and as Kate Sullivan, Faris is the single parent being worked to the bone. After pushing Kate off of his yacht in retaliation for daring to speak back to him, Leonardo falls off later that very same night. When he washes up on the beach, he's forgotten everything. So, at the urging of her friend Theresa (Eva Longoria), Kate tricks him into thinking he's her husband, and father to her three girls.

Though amnesiac plots like this naturally come hand in hand with slight moral and ethical dilemmas, the strange, sexist undertones (if we're being generous) of the original film have gone. The idea that housework is "women's work" is no more, and any physical intimacy has been reserved for the last act.

Nothing that ensues is likely to surprise audiences, but that's not a complaint. Overboard is the kind of romcom that's become fairly rare, in that its creators know exactly what kind of earnest, absurd stories we want, and are more than happy to give them to us without have to give everything an edgy twist. It's like a telenovela in that respect, which is a comparison that is explicitly invited, as the staff at the pizzeria where Kate works constantly watch telenovelas in the kitchen.

Speaking of which, though Overboard is in most respects a standard romcom, it's also somewhat revolutionary in just how matter-of-factly it treats the diversity of the community in which it takes place. There are Norwegians and Scots as well as Mexicans (and entire scenes take place at Leo's family home, where a telenovela is essentially playing out), but never once is it treated as out of the ordinary.

At face value, the idea of kidnapping a Mexican gajillionaire to turn him into a day laborer is an extremely poor turn, but — in a scene that's too good to spoil — it's quickly made clear that we're not about to be subjected to another litany of stereotypes. This film is more smartly written than most will likely give it credit for. (Derbez has actually spoken about this in interviews, noting that the decision to gender-swap the roles had just as much to do with resisting sexist preconceptions as it did with subverting tropes about race.)

That said, credit where credit is due: the cast is uniformly terrific. Though the timbres of Faris and Derbez's comic energies don't yet quite match, they're still comic geniuses, and have enough combined charm to make it work. Where Russell and Hawn had electricity, Faris and Derbez have brought an earnestness that only makes the altered ending all the more rewarding. I'd love to see them paired up again (though I'd also love to see Faris given the opportunity to let loose, as she's given the more straight man role here). Kate's circle of friends are also all standouts, particularly Mel Rodriguez as Bobby, and Josh Segarra, Jesus Ochoa, Omar Chaparro, Javier Lacroix, and Adrian Uribe as the members of his construction crew and pizzeria staff.

All in all, the film is a little too long — when the final act kicks in, events resolve so quickly (without feeling rushed) that a lot of the hemming and hawing that care before feels unnecessary. Again, we already know what's going to happen. Just as things seem to settle into a comfortable groove in the Sullivan home, Leo's memories will return. But love will win out.

It's not a perfect movie by any means, but as far as studio romcoms go, it's a pleasant surprise, and better than it really has any right to be. The role reversal is a gambit that's paid off, as is the careful attention to character and class, and any chance to see Derbez and Faris on the big screen is one I'll take. Though there are certainly sticking points throughout the film, there's nothing that feels unforgivable. Romantic comedies are relatively rare beasts — finding one this sweet feels like striking gold.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10