After Eugenio Derbez's 2013 comedy Instructions Not Included became a surprise hit — and the highest-grossing Mexican film ever in the US — the actor-filmmaker suddenly found himself taking meetings all over Hollywood. At one of those meetings at MGM Studios, he was handed a list of remakes of earlier MGM movies for him to produce as a starring vehicle, and one title leapt out at him: Overboard.
"I was so excited, because I grew up watching this film," Derbez told BuzzFeed News. He's far from alone, either — the romantic comedy starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn wasn't a box office sensation when it opened in 1987, but over the years, the film has become beloved comfort food for its fans.
"I was in love with Goldie Hawn," said Derbez. "She was my movie star crush. I immediately said yes, and we started developing the script."
But after Derbez and his producing partner Ben Odell hired the filmmaking team, including director Rob Greenberg and his writing partner Bob Fisher, they discovered that remaking Overboard for a modern audience presented some major challenges — and equally exciting opportunities.
The biggest hurdle: Rewatching the original movie makes it painfully clear that it's the platonic ideal of a "problematic fave." The plot hinges on Russell's working-class single father who clashes with Hawn's conceited millionaire on her yacht; after she subsequently falls overboard and is afflicted with total retrograde amnesia, he dupes her into believing she is really his wife so she can take care of his four unruly sons and keep up his dilapidated home. At one point in the film, Russell's character gleefully sings about having his own slave, and while he never takes advantage of her physically, the fact that he could lingers uncomfortably.
As Derbez wryly put it, "Nowadays, it looks really rude to have a guy kidnapping a woman to make her work at home."
To resolve that particularly fraught issue, the filmmakers chose to flip the genders of the two leads, making Derbez's character, Leo, the haughty one-percenter afflicted with amnesia, and transforming Russell’s role into an exasperated single mother with three daughters and two jobs — played by the comedically gifted Anna Faris — who hoodwinks Leo into domestic servitude. To eliminate any hint of sexual coercion once Leo begins living with Kate’s family, the filmmakers also made Leo an enthusiastic bachelor who has no problem having sex with total strangers.
"He would be willing to sleep with [Kate] on day one," said Greenberg. "He doesn't care. So we kind of take abuse off the table." (Ultimately, Kate puts the brakes on any sex with Leo, and they sleep in separate areas of the house.)
Updating Overboard’s tricky gender politics also ended up providing Derbez with a rare opportunity. Making his character extravagantly wealthy — in the film, he's the son of the third richest man in the world — allowed the actor-producer to fulfill his ambition to help broaden the way Latinx characters are portrayed in mainstream Hollywood movies.
"I was fed up with always playing in Hollywood, you know, the narcos, the criminals, the gang member," he said. "Or, best-case scenario, the gardener. The Latino audience, my core audience, were always telling me that they wanted to dignify the image of Latinos in Hollywood."
The filmmakers didn't just stop with Derbez's character, either. The new Overboard is filled with a broad spectrum of Latinx characters, including middle-class business owners played by Eva Longoria and The Last Man on Earth’s Mel Rodriguez, as well as working-class short order cooks, and construction crew laborers.
"I think that's America. If you walk into any restaurant or store, all the people working there, or also buying there, are from all over the world — Asians, Latinos, Afro-Americans,” said Derbez. “This is a land of immigrants."
That effort also extended to the casting: Rodriguez is Cuban American, Longoria is Mexican American, and Josh Segarra, who plays an aspiring musician and one of the construction laborers working alongside Leo, is Puerto Rican. "We're not saying, oh, the Mexican millionaire," said Derbez. "It just happens that I'm Mexican. It just happens that the other guy is Puerto Rican or Cuban or whatever. That's the way we see life in America."
"It made [the movie] feel like it reflected the world that we live in, at least in Los Angeles," said Fisher. "Otherwise there wouldn't be any reason for doing the movie, just to redo a movie that people already love."
The Overboard filmmakers also wanted to be sure their film honestly reflected the lives of the working-class Latinx people. In one standout scene, Leo, who can’t shake the feeling that his life should be much better, complains to his fellow workers that he feels like he's "just a paycheck," causing one to respond, "We all feel this way, man. Welcome to the club."
For Derbez, the scene spoke to a common experience he has meeting Latinx waiters who he later sees valeting cars at a different restaurant. "I'm always asking them, 'How do you do this? When do you see your family? When do you enjoy your kids and your house?'" said Derbez. "And they say, 'You know, I'm here to give my family a better life, so I don't have time for me. I'm just like a paycheck. I just have to get them money because I want them to succeed.' They're working hard to give their families a better life."
All the changes the filmmakers made to update their film from the 1987 Overboard reflect how much audiences, and filmmakers, have evolved in their expectations that even a silly, high-concept rom-com should reflect our more socially conscious reality. And yet, the original film’s emphasis on the transformative love of and for your family is what so endeared it to Derbez 30 years ago — and ultimately why he felt drawn to remake it.
"He has a yacht, he has servants, he has women, he has every single thing in the world but love, real love," Derbez said of his character. "So when he goes from having everything to nothing, the only thing that he has [is] the love of a real family. Our intention was to try to teach the characters that there are things that money can't buy. The love from a real family is one of them."