“Zippedy Doo-Dah. Zippedy Yay. My, oh my, I got a wonderful slave.”
I’ve never really been a big fan of director Gary Marshall’s films. I prefer his work as a producer of classic sitcoms, like The Odd Couple and Happy Days. Marshall’s most popular film, Pretty Woman, plays off the Cinderella cliché a little too much for my taste, with a man ultimately finding and saving a woman by redefining her. Three years before Pretty Woman, Marshall explored these same themes in Overboard, but instead of slick fantasy salvation at the hands of a wealthy Richard Gere, the redemption comes from a misogynistic and cruel Kurt Russell.
Now, I love Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. They share a natural chemistry together, no doubt based on their years together as one of Hollywood’s most successful couples. Although I feel they have done their best work in films separately, it is a pleasure to see them work off each other’s strengths and familiarities. In spite of being written by the wonderful Leslie Dixon, this flaccid comedy is not a very complimentary venue for them. At best, Overboard might make you smile a couple times if you can overlook the nasty message that by sadistically demeaning an empowered female a rich bitch you awaken the subservient slave real woman in her. The moral of the story appears to be that the key to a woman’s happiness comes from submissively serving her husband and relinquishing her dreams to thankless motherhood. OK, I do realize this movie is just an eighties comedy and not a treatise on modern feminism, but it is hard not to notice the blatant subtext.
The setup is simple. Joanna Stayton (Hawn) is an uber rich, super bitch, living her life on a yacht with seemingly no responsibilities except to terrorize the crew (including a completely wasted Roddy McDowall as her valet Andrew) and berate her playboy husband, Grant Staten III (Edward Herman). One could say she is over-bored, so to speak.
Killing time while docked in the port of Elk Cove, Oregon, Joanna calls for a carpenter to remodel her onboard closet to accommodate her myriad shoes and accessories. Enter manly, blue collar carpenter Dean Proffitt (Russell). After completing the rush job, Joanna refuses to pay Dean, because the closet was made out of oak instead of cedar, a request she neglected to make beforehand. She fires him and refuses to pay for his services. Dean tells her off in probably the best scene of the film, but this leads to Joanna having him and his tools thrown overboard.
Later that night, while retrieving her wedding ring left on deck, Joanna falls overboard herself. She screams for help, but is ignored by her husband and the crew. Somehow, the next time we see her she is on local news, a mystery woman rescued at sea and suffering amnesia. The film mumbles some lame excuse for this via the cold water or perhaps a bump on the head when she was rescued by a garbage scow. At this point, all suspension of disbelief begins to deteriorate.
After seeing the news broadcast and witnessing her confused anger in the hospital, her husband simply abandons her and happily sets out to find his inner Hugh Hefner. Dean, watching the same news clips, comes up with a plan to get his money’s worth out of Joanna. He shows up at the hospital and, without a shred of evidence, convinces the officials she is his wife, Annie. In spite of her protests, they release her into his custody.
With the help of Dean’s photo-octoring best friend, Billy (Mike Haggerty) and the coached lies of his four unbearable sons, they play Joanna in the long con. He takes her back to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style house and brainwashes her until she loses all self respect and submits to this domestic hell. At one point, after the prerequisite music montage of her daily degradations, Joanna suffers a catatonic nervous breakdown, but is cured by Dean throwing her in a water barrel.
Of course, she finally regains her memories and returns to her privileged life, but soon realizes her true Stockholm syndrome happiness comes from the endless humiliations and disappointments of being enslaved to family life with Dean and his sociopathic sons. Not only does Dean get the girl, but he scores her riches as well, and together they live crappily every after.
Even running at an average 36 Mbps in the original 1.85.1 aspect ratio AVC/MPEG-4 1080/60i transfer there is so much grain and digital noise in this film it often looks as if they are surrounded by swarms of gnats. There was obviously no remastering involved here. The colors are soft and washed out. Detail is muted, the blacks unstable and flesh tones unrealistic.
The 2.0 DTS-HD sound mix provides clear dialog and balanced levels, but no immersive surround with the exception of the music cues. Speaking of music, Elk Cove nightclubs evidently suffer from some of the worst live music in the United States.
None, not even a menu.
This is an ugly male-fantasy movie. Not only is Kurt Russell’s Dean a horrible husband, he is a criminally neglectful father as well. He gleefully tolerates the escalating misbehavior of his sons without consequence or discipline. For example, Dean’s acceptance of his oldest son, Travis’ (Brian Price) obsession with “smut magazines” and proudly noting Travis has found a girlfriend when we witnesses the 13-year-old boy lead a silent and submissive little girl into the woods for what one can only hope is experimental underage sex and not rape.
I know I may be over-thinking what is ultimately a banal eighties rom-com, but I just couldn’t get past the political incorrectness of it all. If it had gone over the top, like with National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, I might have gone with it, but, at best it simply wasn’t funny; at worst it is chauvinistic male propaganda at its some of its ugliest.
“Thank you Dean! Thank you for bringing me here and making a wife, and a mother.”