I’ve long thought that, so long as Hollywood can’t greenlight anything that isn’t a known quantity, they should spend more time remaking the stuff that didn’t become a classic the first time. Overboard, a 1987 Garry Marshall high-concept romantic comedy that I had honestly never heard of before yesterday, feels like a perfect candidate. Its class-war and amnesia-fueled plot could work in literally any era, from ’30s screwball to Elizabethan. It’s already been remade in India and South Korea, but it’s the kind of wackadoo premise that studios now assume American audiences are too jaded for. When people sigh that they just don’t make rom-coms anymore, they really don’t make rom-coms like this. (Though head trauma is certainly re-emerging as a go-to plot device.)
For that reason, I couldn’t help but be taken by the 2018 Overboard, the new remake starring Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez. In this version, the gender roles are reversed: Anna Faris plays the Kurt Russell part of a working-class single mom, and Eugenio Derbez plays Leonardo, the playboy billionaire heir whom she convinces is her husband of 15 years after a tumble from his yacht wipes his memory. Derbez (Instructions Not Included, How to Be a Latin Lover), who also produced the film, has become a figurehead for a kind of crossover bilingual studio comedy that has been quietly successful in the last few years while other, more conventional comedies have crashed and burned. Overboard, directed and co-written by sitcom veteran (and Frasier producer, I must add) Rob Greenberg, is at once defiantly old-fashioned and casually cross-cultural. It’s also predictable as the day is long and lags considerably in the middle, but that might be more of a genre feature than a bug.
Part of the weird trick that Overboard pulls is telling the story of a white woman who takes advantage of a Mexican man and more or less convinces him to be her live-in domestic, not to mention to also take up a job as a day laborer. This is such dicey territory, and that makes it hard to fully dive into the film until you feel you can trust the direction it’s going. It risks feeling like a weird 20th-century American fever dream, like so many other recent films and shows that make minority underdogs out of wage-slave Caucasians. (The film, mostly set in a small coastal Oregon town, is populated by Spanish speakers, French speakers, Norwegians, and Scots; Faris is a distinct outlier.) Their initial encounter has to be outlandishly cruel for the premise to even have a chance of working, and it is: When Faris’s Kate comes aboard Leonardo’s yacht, he denies her pay, insults her looks, and eventually pushes her off the boat. Even then, her plot to bring him down to size — at the suggestion of her fellow working-class best friend Eva Longoria, of course — requires a lot of gymnastics that don’t always land.
It’s more fun to watch the dichotomy between Leonardo’s pre- and post-amnesia selves. It’s a dialogue almost never seen in mainstream English-language films — where the Latin characters are the manual laborers far more often than they are the asshole billionaires, and the riches to rags narrative actually feels a little fresh in this updated, self-consciously silly context. While he is MIA, his scheming sister (Cecilia Suárez) plots to inherit the family business from their ailing father (Fernando Luján); these scenes, telenovela-big and all in subtitled Spanish, are an unexpectedly appropriate counterpoint to the cutesy stuff at home with Derbez and Faris. Derbez gets better as the film goes along — he’s a little too spasmodically evil as the pre-enlightened playboy, but hilariously sweet and too-good-to-be-true as the ever-suffering husband who loves to cook for his family. Faris, skilled as ever at being a knowing, sympathetic, and still-funny anchor in this kind of film, is also charming (though, come on, let’s hold off on giving her teenage daughters just yet).
The film kicks into high comic gear for its final ten minutes or so, making one wonder where all that energy was for the laggier midsection. (Kate waffles for what feels like forever about admitting the truth to Leonardo, rendering the ruse more threadbare with every close call.) There are some genuinely funny and surprising beats leading up to the couple’s all-too-predictable reunion that I won’t spoil here, but which bely a comedy that has been smarter than average all along. By shifting its perspective and updating its anxieties, Overboard is a decent-to-great model for a rom-com renaissance, the kind of film that sends one out on a high note great enough to blur many of the blemishes that have come before.