Joanna, The “Mad Woman” in 1987’s Overboard

When I worked in a dental office when I was 18, one of my co-workers was summoned for jury duty and spent the small part of the morning drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups and watching Overboard on a TV mounted on the wall. That sounded like a curious morning to me. 

When I watched Overboard as a kid, I admired the lead female character Joanna Stayton played by Goldie Hawn. Mysteriously sailing through Oregon with her obnoxious husband, she was outspoken and fabulously wealthy, wore tacky clothing, and had a personal chef. My favorite scene is when she phones her mother, played by Katherine Helmond of Who’s the Boss fame. In that scene, you get that they are of old money, but Joanna bedazzles in black and white textile decadence, and her mother is in rosy pastels and Victorian-style puff sleeves and probably douses herself in CHANEL N°5.

In a shrewish outburst, Joanna refuses to pay the Elk Cove carpenter who builds her a revolving closet contraption made of oak, not cedar. The carpenter, played by Kurt Russel, is named Dean Proffitt. When Joanna falls overboard and develops amnesia, he plots to live up to his surname, “rescuing” her from the hospital where her husband has abandoned her. He concocts a fake narrative to convince Joanna that she’s his bride and mother of his four sons. The grotesquerie builds for Joanna. The men force her to cook and clean, make her believe that she is mad, and do things like dump her in barrels of cold water and ride in the back of a pick-up truck swallowing bugs and super glue pie plates to her hands.

Of course, she grows kind and humbled by her new life in the deep dark woods. She eventually falls for Dean, and they make fevered love on the bedroom floor until the sun rises. It turns out that Dean is an inventor and develops a themed mini golf course in town. Joanna is in pure bliss, and she morphs into a mama bear. In the closing scene, we learn that Joanna can return to her life of riches, and she’ll bring the boys along for the boat ride. The image of her new family sailing in the dusk wants to make us swoon, but when I re-watch this movie now, I want Joanna to peace out and sail out on her lonesome, lip gloss on point and gold sequin gown flapping in the wind. 


Monique Quintana is a Xicana from Fresno, CA, and the author of Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). Her work has appeared in Pank, Wildness, Lost Balloon, and other publications. You can read her book reviews and artist interviews at Luna Luna Magazine, where she is a contributing editor. She has been supported by Yaddo, the Sundress Academy of the Arts, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, and the Community of Writers. You can find her at moniquequintana.com.

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