What I Learned From “Overboard”

As the man behind sitcoms like The Odd Couple, Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley, Garry Marshall taught us that all we need to laugh are two people, hashing out their differences in an apartment. But while he was working to bring that Honeymooners formula to a new generation, he apparently didn’t have the time to properly convey his feelings that women are insipid. Because that is the defining message of the second act of his career, as a director of romantic comedies. From Pretty Woman to Runaway Bride to Raising Helen, Marshall has glorified in telling females that getting a husband should be their top priority (and that being a prostitute is a viable way of achieving that goal).

But none of his movies are as brazenly sexist as his hit 1987 romp Overboard. The story of a Oregonian handyman (Kurt Russell) who gets fired by an impossibly spoiled rich lady (Goldie Hawn) and then mind-fucks her into being his slave when she gets amnesia, this is the purest distillation of Marshall’s anti-woman agenda. So, what did I learn from it?

1. Rich people are stupid monsters.

In Overboard‘s opening scenes, Marshall does everything he can to make us hate Hawn’s character, Joanna Stayton. She wears opulent dresses and absurd hairstyles; she bitches out her manservant (Roddy MacDowall!) for serving her the wrong kind of caviar; she refuses to talk to Russell’s aw-shucks everyman Dean Proffitt like he’s an actual person. Of course, this kind of cartoonish villainy is necessary – without it, audiences just might not take Dean’s side when he, you know, kidnaps and rapes her and stuff.

2. Hospitals are super lax.

After falling off her yacht and being rescued by a fishing boat, Joanna’s in fine physical health, but is suffering from amnesia. Dean sees her picture on the local news, hatches his vengeful scheme, and shows up at the hospital to take Joanna “home.” After a doctor and the hospital security guard (played by old-school “Family Feud” host Ray Combs) sympathize with Dean about just how bitchy Joanna is, they ask him for proof that she is indeed his wife, “Annie.” Dean tells them about a birthmark he noticed while working for Joanna, and after making her lift up her gown in full view of everybody to verify this, the hospital staff is satisfied that this smirking, unconcerned man is telling the truth.

3. Women best have kids.

Early in the movie, Joanna has a conversation with her even stupider and richer mother (played by Katherine “Mona” Helmond). In it, Joanna shares that her husband Grant wants to have a kid, and the movie’s disdain for women first rears its ugly head. “Darling,” her mother responds, “if you have a baby, then you won’t be the baby anymore.” By establishing right away that childless women are spoiled brats, Overboard posits that Dean isn’t just teaching Joanna a lesson by making her take care of his unruly brood – he’s putting her in her place.

4. Women best do grueling housework.

Once Dean convinces Joanna that she’s actually Annie, he puts her to work. She scrubs his tarpaper shack, plucks and boils chickens, and tends to his quartet of hellion sons (one who incessantly impersonates Pee Wee Herman, to the point where you think he suffered a head injury too). When she has trouble waking up in the morning, Dean throws her in a tub of freezing water. She becomes more accepting of this ritual as the movie progresses, and by the end, she craves it. It’s a clear case of Stockholm syndrome, but Marshall would have us believe the opposite – that a successful woman had found her true calling as a homemaker.

5. Women in the ’80s would’ve put up with a ton of Kurt Russell’s shit.

So if everything I’ve written about Overboard is true, how could it have been a big hit with the female audience it was targeting? Because it’s shrewdly casted. Both actors are in top form here – Russell has the lovable, blue-collar hunk act down pat, and Hawn has a blast playing the marvelously campy Joanna. Their chemistry is the only reason why anyone could accept Dean’s twisted crimes as anything resembling normal human behavior. “He could kidnap me any day,” I imagine every baby boomer lady saying in ’87. If Steve Buscemi played Dean, I think it might’ve gone differently (e.g. “Kill him, Goldie! Stab him in the face! KILL HIM!”).

Coldplay Hate: A Study

In a recent Pitchfork interview, Coldplay singer Chris Martin discussed his relationship with Jay-Z, sharing that some people can’t understand why someone as “cool” as Jay would want to be friends with someone as “nerdy” as himself. I know one thing they could definitely bond on – haters. Whether it’s coming from Foo FightersThe 40-Year-Old Virgin, or critics who can’t get over the U2 aping, moneymaking and/or Paltrow marrying, Martin has to deal with the same petty jealousies as Jay or fellow collaborator Kanye West. But unlike those artists, Coldplay’s stock in trade – huge, starry-eyed love songs with choruses that embrace listeners like teddy bears – doesn’t give him the platform to vent about it.

For now, at least. The band’s fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, finds the group aiming for a more rubbery pop sound, injecting some needed brightness and energy in its brand of moody arena rock. Synths appear as much as pianos; the rhythms have more meat on their bones, and teardrops invariably become waterfalls. It’s an ideal situation for a guest appearance by Rihanna, whose voice winningly intertwines with Martin’s over the soaring synth-pop riffage of “Princess of China.”

You could spin this as a sign of the musical apocalypse if you wanted – a monstrously popular group doing everything it can to sound even more mainstream. But for all of its chart-reaching ambitions, Mylo Xyloto doesn’t sound labored. Martin and his bandmates clearly have an affinity for the trappings of 21st century pop and R&B, and with the help of super-producer Brian Eno, they’ve woven them into their signature sound in subtle yet effective ways – much like U2 did on Achtung Baby. Critics are once again heaping praise upon that album in honor of its 20th birthday, calling it brave, despite the fact that when you took away Bono’s new hair and wardrobe, Achtung was just a tweaked version of the same old formula. It’s a great record, but it has more in common with Mylo Xyloto than U2 fans would probably care to admit.

The reviews are in on MX, and they’re the usual mix of carefully worded praise and straight-up bile. But whether they’re being nice or mean, critics still tend to sound disappointed that Coldplay isn’t an Important Artist, the kind of band that turns fans into apostles for its cause. Which leads to my theory – Coldplay’s biggest problem is that they don’t suck enough. It’s easy to spew hate about Black Eyed Peas or Maroon 5, but those Coldplay choruses are nifty little earworms. They must make it hard on Chris Martin haters, no matter how many clumsy rhymes he forces. So they rage on about how worthless Coldplay is, how they’re an insult to people who “know about music,” how their popularity exposes the ignorance of the general public. Then they catch themselves humming “Paradise,” and the self-flagellation begins.

Netflix Recap: Meek’s Cutoff

If you looked at my instant watching activity for the last few days, you would see that I’ve watched several episodes of the BBC show Merlin. Why would I endure this Smallville-ization of the Arthurian legend? Is it possible to be a masochistic Anglophile? Thankfully, I’m not going to answer those questions here. Instead I’m going to talk about something else I watched recently that makes me seem cooler – the haunting Kelly Reichardt movie Meek’s Cutoff.

Although it features effective, restrained performances from stars Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, the unforgiving landscape should get top billing in this minimalist tale about 19th century settlers who make the regrettable decision to leave the Oregon Trail. Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond understand that frightened people clomping through the desert aren’t going to bust out many soliloquies, resulting in a relatively quiet, realistic study of people looking death in the face. And when the visuals are as arresting as they are here, Williams’ stern, heavily bonneted face and Dano’s bug-eyed expressions are all you need. Paranoia abounds from the first minute, where it becomes clear that the settlers don’t trust their guide, the eccentrically brusque Stephen Meek (played by Sweensryche favorite Bruce Greenwood, who plays against his A Dog Named Christmas type, with mixed results). When a Native American crosses the group’s path and eventually becomes Meek’s unwilling replacement, the gap between cultures is as vast as those stunningly arid landscapes.

Reichardt has a thing for the “getting lost” metaphor – Old Joy, her 2006 film about two men attempting to recapture their lost friendship on a camping trip, dealt with the pair losing their way with a mesmerizing sense of patience. Meek’s Cutoff is filmed in a similar style, lulling you with extended shots of the settlers fording rivers and chasing handkerchiefs in the wind. But whereas Old Joy ended with the clear sense that the characters had drifted apart, Meek’s closing shot is harrowingly open-ended. You get the idea that, with paranoia and mistrust worming their way into the settlers’ brains, something bad is on the horizon. Call it American History 101.