The screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s might well feature a spoiled heiress escaping from a yacht and falling into the calloused hands of a roughneck. These two were a mismatch, but somehow they got around to finding true love before the fade-out.

So screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Outrageous Fortune) is joining a long tradition with her script for Overboard. In this one, the spoiled heiress (Goldie Hawn) steers her yacht into an Oregon backwater for an “emergency” repair job: She wants her shoe closet rebuilt.

A local carpenter (Kurt Russell), the roughneck, comes aboard, builds her a new closet, and gets stiffed on his fee when he insults her ladyship.  But when the yacht steams out that night, the heiress falls over the side; and when she’s rescued by a garbage scow, it seems she has amnesia. (The biggest case of amnesia here belongs to the filmmakers, who apparently don’t remember how often this hokey device has been used in movies.)

When her preppie husband (Edward Herrmann) sees that she’s been put in the local hospital, he sails merrily away; frankly, he couldn’t stand her. The carpenter spots the amnesia victim on local TV and sees and angle on getting a little payback: He pretends this woman saved from drowning is his wife. And he brings her home to tend his four motherless sons.

The better part of the film has Goldie coping with the life of a put-upon housewife at Russell’s ramshackle hovel in the Oregon backwoods. There are a lot of attitude-readjustment jokes, many of which are funny because Hawn has lost none of her flair for comic adorability.

This is the first movie Hawn and Russell have made in tandem since they got together on Swing Shift (they are Significant Others in real life). They’re easy to take together, although Russell may be a bit too relaxed in his good-ol’-boy role. The kids are standard-issue movie tykes.

Garry Marshall is the director. In his Nothing in Common and The Flamingo Kid, he had a nice, unforced feeling for place and atmosphere. Overboard is much more nondescript.

And speaking of the script, Dixon’s screenplay fails in ways those old screwball comedies didn’t. Jokes are hit-or-miss, without being developed. And the secondary characters, Hawn’s grotesque mother (Katherine Helmond) and dutiful butler (Roddy McDowall), should be better integrated, not to mention funnier. Overboard manages to be regularly amusing, without ever becoming anything memorable, or do I merely have a case of temporary amnesia?

First published in The Herald, December 20, 1987

I haven’t seen this movie again, but in running across certain scenes, I will acknowledge that at least one of the kids is distinctively hilarious. Otherwise, no strong memory, except that it’s a pretty weird idea for a film. IMDb, and probably many others, points out that the concept is a little bit similar to Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away, so maybe that classes up the joint a bit.

One Response to Overboard

  1. Edward Herrmann (aka “The History Channel Guy”) is one of my favorite character actors and voiceover talents. He also was the guy who portrayed FDR several times on TV and the movie version of Annie. Sadly, he died of cancer not long after he reprised the role of President Roosevelt one last time as a reader in Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”

    Great review!

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