Long-time romantic partners Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell made three films together. The first of these was the 1968 Disney film The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, made when Hawn was 22 and Russell was 16, so let us banish it from our minds and never think of it again. The one that matters was the second film, 1984's Swing Shift, which is where they met again - both legal adults this time! - and fell in love. And this brings us to the third and thus-far final of their collaborations, 1987's Overboard, which whatever its sins may be (and they are not little sins) looms large in the annals of Romantic Movies That Are Improved By Knowing The Leads Are Sleeping Together In Real Life. Not all movies are so improved! The only movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that's worth a damn is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the one where they play a horrifyingly unstable pair of dysfunctional drunks. But sometimes you get something like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, whose real-life sparks threaten to burn movies like To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep right down the ground. But, like, in a sexy way.
So anyway, Hawn and Russell are adorable together, and that matters a lot, because Overboard could be unbearably creepy if they weren't. It's a film about the abusively rich Joanna Stayton (Hawn) who hires carpenter Dean Proffitt (Russell), a widower newly relocated to Elk Cove, Oregon with his four sons. After spending two days constantly insulting him in earshot, she refuses to pay him for using the wrong wood, and throws him and his tools overboard. That night, while hunting for the earrings she left on deck while sunbathing, Joanna falls overboard herself. She's rescued the next morning with no memory of who she is or where she came from, though her haughty asshole attitude remains in check. Seeing the story on the news, Dean hatches a terrible, wonderful idea: he'll pretend that she's his wife "Annie", and take advantage of her amnesia to make her keep house for him until she's paid back the money he's owed. Obviously, they fall in love. There's no question that this is off-putting, even with screenwriter Leslie Dixon gaming things by making pre-amnesia Joanna so profoundly, cartoonishly awful that it's close to impossible to feel sympathetic for her. What saves it, really, is that Hawn and Russell so palpably love each other, and Russell for his part never even really tries to hide it, not even when Dean is spitting working-class invective and plotting to extract his vengeance with outwardly devilish glee.
The other good thing about Hawn and Russell so obviously loving each other so much is that they give Overboard its solitary moments of human interest. This is simply not a good film. That it would not be good, and even most of the ways it would not be good, were apparent from the minute the words "A Garry Marshall Film" flash up on the film's second title card. Apologies to the late Mr. Marshall, who was by all accounts one of the most genuinely sweet and kind human beings in all of American filmmaking, but I'm not sure that he made one single good movie in 18 tries as a director.* He was first and foremost a whiz at making big, broad, affable sitcoms for TV, which led him to the central belief that good commercial storytelling meant never, ever doing something that might challenge the audience or make them even briefly uncomfortable. This probably why his two best-loved films are a big goofy romantic comedy about Stockholm syndrome, and a big goofy romantic comedy about exploiting a prostitute.
And oh, how very big and goofy Overboard is. This is nowhere clearer than in the matter of Dean's four sons, who exist not at all as characters, and barely even as a plot complication. Mostly, they're around to add color, like another movie might mention one of its character's obsession with hats. They're marked out with tics, not even personality traits: oldest 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 an "arson phase", which might have set up a plot-point, or at least a gag, in a better movie. Between the four of them, they're basically just around to be silly and cute, and to help motivate the inevitable moment when Joanna-as-Annie starts to figure out that she really likes it here.
The movie is fundamentally soft and gentle, so much so that it barely even feels like it exists at all. Joanna's viciousness is meekly played for some halfway decent "I can't believe I live in a shithole" jokes early on, and Hawn goes all the way in on accentuating the hard surface of her rich monster early on, but that's just about it for anything approaching an edge. Most of it is just watching as the inevitable takes place (I think that Overboard predates the firm solidification of the '90s and '00s romcom formula to which it unerringly subscribes - they hate each other, they fall in love, she finds out he's been keeping some horrible secret about 80% of the way through, this gets resolved in the last scene - so maybe it wasn't quite as brutally predictable in '87), and cooing in delight as Hawn and Russell make goo-goo eyes at each other. They're both good - Hawn is in fact quite good, making the script's odd ideas about what's going on in her head feel plausible. Good enough to make the movie worth it? Eh, maybe. It's harmless enough, however shabbily made, what with Alan Silvestri's bland musical score, dominated by a motif that sounds like the main motif from every other '80s comedy, and what with the frequently bad editing that pays little attention to spacial geography and less to continuity of movement (at one point, I would have sworn before everybody and everything that Joanna goes back to New York after throwing Dean off the boat, but nope: they just went around the bay and came back to where they started, or something).
You know who does make the movie worth it? Edward Herrmann and Roddy McDowall. Neither of them are doing anything even one inch outside of their wheelhouse: Herrmann plays Joanna's terrible rich asshole husband, all smug primness and arch line deliveries, and McDowall plays the fussy, put-upon head butler of Joanna's yacht. But they're both extremely satisfying to watch, in the grand tradition of character actors quietly working to make sure everything is on track even if the movie doesn't earn it. And while I'm saying nice things about elements of the movie that don't really matter, I love the hell out of Wayne Finkelman's costumes for Hawn when she's still in vile rich person mode, all hideous '80s fashion nightmares like clashing black-and-white streaks and sunglasses that are bigger on one side than the other. Costuming is the one legitimately hilarious aspect of this nominal comedy, but that's a Marshall film: all banal mirth and little smiles, and whenever something that's actually good drifts by, you've got to cling to it like a life preserver.
*I haven't seen The Princess Diaries, which seems like the only plausible counterargument.