Each week this summer, we're taking a historic tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that's in some ways a spiritual prequel to one of the weekend's big releases. This (last) week: Amnesia means never having to apologizeOver board, a film about how romantic it is to kidnap abusive rich people. This film is a remake of a cult favorite that I never caught, my choice of subject was pretty damn easy.
Longtime romantic partners Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have made three films together. The first of these was the 1968 Disney filmThe only real original family bond, taken when Hawn was 22 and Russell was 16, so let's put it out of our minds and never think about it again. What matters was the second film from 1984Swing-Shift, where they met again - this time both of legal age! - and fell in love. And that brings us to the third and last of their collaborations, 1987Over board, which, whatever his sins may be (and they're no small sins), looms large in the annals of romantic films enhanced by knowing the leads sleep together in real life. Not all films are so improved! The only Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film that's worth a damn isWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which they play a shockingly unstable couple of dysfunctional drunks. But sometimes you get the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, whose real-life sparks threaten to burn moviesTo have and not to haveandThe Big Sleepdown at the bottom. But in a sexy way.
Anyway, it's Hawn and Russelladorabletogether, and that's very important becauseOver boardcould be unbearably creepy if they weren't. It's a film about abusively wealthy Joanna Stayton (Hawn) who hires carpenter Dean Proffitt (Russell), a widower who has just moved to Elk Cove, Oregon with his four sons. After two days of constantly insulting him within earshot, she refuses to pay him for using the wrong wood and throws him and his tools awayover board. That night Joanna falls while looking for the earrings she left on deck while sunbathingover boardHerself. She is rescued the next morning with no memory of who she is or where she came from, though her haughty asshole attitude remains in check. Dean sees the story on the news and has a horrible, wonderful idea: he's going to pretend that she's his wife "Annie" and use her amnesia to get her to keep house for him until she does has paid back any money he owes. Obviously they fall in love. There's no question that this is chilling, even as screenwriter Leslie Dixon plays things up by making Joanna's pre-amnesia so profoundly and cartoonishly horrific that it's nigh impossible to feel sympathy for her. What really saves it is that Hawn and Russell love each other so obviously, and for his part, Russell doesn't even really try to hide it, not even when Dean spews working class invective and plans to retaliate with outwardly devilish glee.
The other good thing about Hawn and Russell, who so obviously love each other so much, is that they giveOver boardhis lonely moments of human interest. It's just not a good movie. That it wasn't going to be good, and even most ways it wasn't going to be good, was obvious from the minute the words "A Garry Marshall Film" flashed on the film's second title card. Apologies to the late Mr. Marshall, who by all accounts was one of the genuinely sweet and kind people in all of American filmmaking, but I'm not sure he made a single good film in 18 attempts as a director.*He was primarily a genius at making big, broad, friendly sitcoms for television, which led him to a central belief that good commercial storytelling means never doing anything that will challenge audiences or make them even briefly uncomfortable could be. This is probably why his two most popular films are a big silly romantic comedy about Stockholm Syndrome and a big silly romantic comedy about the exploitation of a prostitute.
And oh how very big and sillyOver boardis. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the affair of Dean's four sons, who don't exist as characters at all and rarely as a plot complication. More often than not, they're there to add color, like another movie mentioning a character's obsession with hats. They're marked by tics, not even personality traits: eldest brother Travis (Brian Price) likes porn, youngest brother Joey (Jeffrey Wiseman) can't read, twins Charlie (Jared Rushton) and Greg (Jamie Wild) are going through one "Arson phase" which could have built a plot point or at least a gag in a better movie. The four of them are basically just there to be silly and cute and to motivate that inevitable moment when Joanna-as-Annie starts to find out that she really likes it here.
The film is inherently soft and gentle, so much so that it hardly feels like it even exists. Joanna's meanness is meekly played for some half-decent "I can't believe I live in a shithole" joke early on, and Hawn emphasizes the hard surface of her rich monster early on, but that's about all there is to it edge is approaching. Most of it is just watching the inevitable take place (I think soOver boardprecedes the solidification of the romcom formula of the '90s and 2000s, which she unerringly follows - they hate each other, they fall in love, she finds out he's stuck a horrible secret about 80% of the way, that'll solve the last one scene - maybe it wasn't thatpretty muchso brutally predictable in '87) and cooing with delight as Hawn and Russell stare at each other with goose bumps. They're both good - indeed, Hawn ispretty muchgood to make the script's weird ideas about what's going on in her head seem plausible. Good enough to make the movie worth it? Uh, maybe. It's harmless enough but shoddily done, which has to do with Alan Silvestri's bland musical score, which is dominated by a motif that sounds like the main motif from any other '80s comedy, and which has to do with the often poor editing used by the pays little attention to spatial geography and continuity of movement (at one point I would have sworn to anyone and everyone that Joanna was returning to New York after throwing Dean off the boat, but no: they just walked around the bay and shut returned to their starting point, or something) .
you know whotutis the movie worth it? Edward Herrmann and Roddy McDowall. Neither of them does anything even an inch outside their wheelhouse: Herrmann plays Joanna's terribly rich asshole husband, all smug grooming and arched deliveries, and McDowall plays the fussy, put-on head butler of Joanna's yacht. But they're both immensely satisfying to watch, in the great tradition of character actors quietly working to make sure everything is on track, even when the film doesn't deserve it. And while I say nice things about elements of the film that don't really matter, I love Wayne Finkelman's costumes for Hawn when she's still in hideously rich mode, all awful '80s fashion nightmares like clashing black and white Stripes and sunglasses that are bigger on one side than the other. The costuming is the only legitimately hilarious aspect of this nominal comedy, but this is a Marshall film: all mundane merriment and little smiles, and whenever something really good passes you have to cling to it like a lifesaver.
*I did not see itThe Princess Diaries, which seems to be the only plausible counter-argument.