In only a few days, it will be April Fool's Day, where we all practice our best practical jokes and prey on the innocent gullibility of the masses. But when you're entrenched in the film world, and writing about it on a daily basis, April 1 begins to seem like any ordinary day. Or rather, most other days end up seeming like Fool's days, with all the ridiculous news that hits. We've got movies getting made about board games that barely have a plot, remakes upon remakes of crap hurtling towards us, and other strange bites that never seem real until we actually see the moving, video proof.
Currently, Hollywood is in love with all things retro. One quick glimpse at Den of Geek's handy "75 movie remakes and reboots currently in the works" reveals a long list of classic and crappy flicks getting revisited. We always talk about what that means cinematically -- the few films that will rise above, and all the rest that will surely fail, but there's also another matter: the attitudes and themes we can't seem to leave in the past.
When Hollywood grabs an old story, they're not just lazing out by grabbing plots and characters from the past, they're also grabbing decades-old attitudes and characterizations from a time better left behind.
We like to think that we continue to evolve, but what does it mean when we grab dated stories? While I can look through the beloved movies of my past and realize which weren't so great (and which I should leave firmly in the past), Hollywood can't seem to do the same, preferring to stay old and foolish. For example, I've realized that Michael Carrington dumbing himself down for the prefers-to-be-floofy Stephanie Zinone in Grease 2 is not the inspirational story my 7-year-old self thought it was. I've moved on. So why can't Hollywood realize, for example, that Overboard is much better forgotten?
The year was 1987, and I was 10 years old. I went to see Overboard because I loved Kurt Russel like any child raised on retro Disney fare would. Without the comforts of maturity and critical thought, I ate it up with a spoon. It had no dark implications. It was pure, light fun. ...that is, until I looked at it with adult eyes and wondered how anyone would let this story fly. (Spoilers to follow, although I'm sure you could guess the outcome of the film anyway.)
Joanna (Goldie Hawn) is a bitchy socialite married to Grant (Edward Herrmann). While in Oregon getting repairs on their yacht, Dean (Kurt Russell) is hired to work on her closet. Right after Joanna angers Dean by refusing to pay him, she falls overboard and gets amnesia. Sick of her jerky ways, Grant doesn't claim her, but Dean does, with visions of servitude dancing in his brain. He takes Joanna home and makes her the housewife in charge of his four sons. Initially, she hates it, until something about the life grows on her, and she falls for Dean and his family. But then Grant shows up, Joanna remembers the truth, and goes back to her real, rich life ... until she realizes that her "real" rich life is the warmth and love she found with Dean.
Essentially, an innocent woman is made into a slave by a sexy guy, mentally manipulated into a certain way of life, and discovers that that's the world she ultimately wants. The man, meanwhile, not only gets a wife and mother for his kids, but he gets rich too, because the last big twist is that all that fancy yacht money isn't Grant's. It's hers. Overboard made $26 million back in the '80s, and the masses ate it up. Now Hollywood is hoping for a repeat with a remake starring Jennifer Lopez.
Put whatever bow or sugar you want on it, but this is no different than stories about young women like the girl in Austria held for 8 years, or the California girl held for 18, who even had children with her captor. We'd be sickened if these stories were made into comical romances, but here we get Overboard, the Remake. An April Fool's prankster would really have to work at it to come up with something as ridiculous as a rom-com dipping into themes of brainwashing, rape, and finding happiness through subservience and manipulation.
April Fool's is on us! It's not 2010. It's 1910.
In 9 years, when women celebrate 100 years of having the right to vote, let's hope these projects become nothing more than Fool's Day folly that rests firmly in the past. That producer Will Smith won't help bring remakes of sexist, troubling stories. That original director Garry Marshall finally moves on from his troublesome tropes or finally bows out of the biz altogether. And...
That Hollywood, when it mines for old stories, can realize that they had some bad taste in their early days, and look at those projects with nostalgia and embarrassment, rather than dollar signs. Otherwise we're just letting them make us the dumb suckers 365 days a year.