A cruel but beautiful heiress mocks and cheats a hired carpenter. When she gets amnesia after an accident, he decides to introduce her to regular life by convincing her they're husband and wife.
Joanna hires country carpenter Dean to build a closet on her yacht. When the two don't see eye-to-eye, Dean is left unpaid while Joanna sets sail. The following day, Joanna is fished out of the sea, after falling overboard, suffering from amnesia. Dean sees a neat way to regain the money she owes him - he tells her she's his wife; that way Dean gets a free housekeeper and mother for his four kids.
Married couple Joanna Stayton and Grant Stayton III are an extremely wealthy, pretentious couple who live aboard their yacht. They live off of Joanna's family's money. She is a bitch of a woman, who treats others poorly and thinks nothing about doing whatever she needs to get what she wants, which she always gets. So when their yacht is moored in Elk Cove, Oregon and she hires local carpenter Dean Proffitt to do some work, she has no qualms of stiffing him the $600 for the job when it doesn't meet what she wanted, despite her not specifying the issue to him beforehand. When the Staytons sail out of Elk Cove, Joanna falls overboard, the resulting injury which causes temporary amnesia. Grant sees this accident as his opportunity to ditch her. When news of a Jane Doe (Joanna) hits the local news and Dean sees that the person he knows as Grant denies knowing her, he also sees an opportunity: he will claim to be her husband, and make her his housemaid - which includes her taking care of his four rambunctious sons - for about a month, which he considers the equivalent of what she owes him. "Annie" (what they end up calling her) is still a bitch of a woman. As time goes on, Dean has second thoughts about what he is doing, not because of Annie being like Joanna, but because he is falling in love with a mellowed Annie and it seems like she is doing vice versa. Can their love overcome the obstacles of Joanna's equally pretentious mother looking for her, or the time when she will ultimately regain her memory?
Joanna Stayton, a wealthy woman, hires carpenter Dean Proffitt to work on her yacht, and then refuses to pay him. Afterwards, she accidentally falls from the deck and injures herself, giving her amnesia. Her husband, Grant, ditches her for her fortune, and Dean decides to take advantage of her memory loss in revenge for not paying him. Convincing her that her name is Annie, and that they are married with four children, he uses her as a servant. Along the way, they fall in love. Eventually, Grant and her memory returns, and she goes back to the life she had before. She realizes that she learned to take care of more than herself during her time with Dean, and they reunite.
Now that her luxurious yacht has docked in Elk Cove, Oregon, for repairs, the filthy rich, arrogant, and irritatingly pampered heiress, Joanna Stayton, commissions the poor local carpenter, Dean Proffitt, to remodel her fantastic wardrobe. Of course, nothing is ever good enough for the insufferable socialite--and in a sudden fit of rage--she kicks him overboard, only to get a taste of her own medicine later that night. As a result, with her amnesiac and helpless in the community's hospital, Dean sees a golden opportunity to get even--and in one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions--boldly decides to identify her as Annie, his long-lost wife and mother of his four sons. For once, he is having a blast watching her trying to babysit "their" untamed boys, and to straighten up the decrepit love-nest; however, when she finds out the truth, will she forgive him for having so heartlessly tricked her?
Joanna Stayton is very rich and very spoiled. When she falls overboard from her yacht in the harbor of Elk Cove, Oregon, she develops amnesia. She's taken in by Dean Proffitt, the local carpenter she's previously maligned. Dean, in revenge, persuades her that she is his wife and the mother of his four sons. Eventually, they "humanize" her and even when her memory returns she realizes she has fallen in love with them.
- The initial scenes establish that Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn), is a spoiled brat who always gets her way, the ultimate rich bitch, and the pampered wife of pretentious socialite Grant Stayton III (Edward Herrmann).
Using Roman numerals after your name is Hollywood shorthand for "pretentious snob", and Grant is that, and self centered to boot, however, Joanna is far worse. She is not only snobbish but also idle, pampered, sharp-tongued, impossible to please and unfailingly rude to anyone she considers her social inferior, which is virtually all of the human race. To describe Joanna as unsympathetic is a huge understatement, a better description would be "prize bitch".
When Grant's luxury yacht develops engine trouble, Grant is forced to put into the small Oregon coastal town of Elk Snout for repairs.
While the huge yacht is in port, Joanna hires Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell), a poor carpenter who has just moved to Oregon, to build better shoe storage for her closet in the yacht. Dean is a skilled craftsman, rather picky about what he uses, such as the wood that should be used to protect the leather from salt spray in a ship. Joanna is also not impressed by his taking so long, as he designed intricate shelves that confuse and annoy her.
An early funny scene in the movie has Joanna lecturing Andrew the butler (Roddy McDowall), on why the caviar he had just delivered her was no good, while Dean, standing in the background, has his tape measure pointing suggestively skyward.
When the work is complete she refuses to pay him in a dispute over the quality of his workmanship, claiming that the closet is not up to her standards. In the ensuing argument Joanna loses her temper, pushes Dean overboard and throws his tools after him.
The yacht crew has long ago gotten used to keep quiet and accept the guff from Joanna and Grant, despite that they have been treated like dirt, particularly family butler Andrew.
After a typically stormy dinner that night, Joanna drops her wedding ring behind a seat on the deck. In reaching for it she loses her balance and falls overboard.
A garbage boat rescues her but there is a problem: she is suffering from amnesia and cannot remember anything of her former identity. This we learn as Joanna is interviewed as she is wheeled into a psychiatric hospital.
The following morning Grant returns to port, and finds Joanna is safe in a hospital but she has lost her memory, while her personality remains as nasty as ever.
Grant, who is weary of Joanna, pretends that he does not recognize her, seeing his chance to be rid of her and to lead a playboy bachelor lifestyle on the yacht.
When news of the unidentified amnesiac is televised throughout the city, a still angry Dean recognizes her picture and believes his opportunity for revenge has come. In a stroke of retributive genius, Dean shows up at the hospital audaciously posing as her husband and identifies Joanna as his wife "Annie". He tells her that she's his wife and the mother of his four unruly boys.
His motive is not only payback for the way in which Joanna treated him but also his need for someone to do all the housework, as Dean is skilled as a craftsman but less accomplished in parenting and housekeeping. He is a widower with four young sons and finds it difficult to cope. The kids have missed a woman's touch in their home for nearly five years since their Mom died. Since the death of their mother his attitude towards his children and his household has been one of benign neglect. The boys have become undisciplined and badly behaved and the house looks like a war zone.
Dean's intention is to get compensation for his unpaid work from Joanna being the household maid for a while. He figures on crediting her for 25 dollars a day. He assumes she'll be good for cleaning up around the house and looking after his four sons. The sons agree to the hoax, so Dean brings Joanna into his highly unkempt home and gets her to do all the chores.
Although Joanna cannot recall her previous life with Grant, she is not convinced that she really is Dean's wife, especially as she turns out to be totally unskilled at cleaning and cooking. There isn't any sexual attraction on either side, so she sleeps on the couch in the living room and he keeps his bed.
She asks Dean questions like where did we meet, what jobs did I have, and his answers are pretty low class redneck, so the muses to herself, I was a short, fat, slut? Whatever her questions, Dean manages a cover up with some silly story.
When she gets curious about why there aren't any pictures of her anywhere, Dean arranges for one of his buddies to modify Deans original wedding pictures by inserting Joannas face replacing his first wife.
Later on, when Joanna discovers that she is fluent in French, Dean has to make up a tall tale to explain why.
Joanna, finally believing she is Annie, struggles to become a good housewife and mother. She accepts her role as the woman of the house. Gradually, however, she gets used to her situation, she gets good at it, Dean even begins to fall in love, as Joanna's hidden talents come out.
While overwhelmed at first by having to do unfamiliar work, including cooking, while struggling to remember this family, Joanna slowly works things out. Joanna brings some discipline back into the lives of father and sons.
She is able to moderate the wild, "bachelor's hall" lifestyle that Dean has set up for himself and his sons. The boys accept a curtailment of their freedom, which at first they resent but slowly appreciate. A breakthrough with the kids comes when she sticks up for them against a bullying school teacher. A breakthrough with Dean comes when she finds he is earning extra money at a menial moonlighting job on a night that he says he goes out bowling with the guys.
Joanna gradually comes to appreciate Dean's good qualities and to sympathize with little people she had previously dismissed as worthless.
Dean finds he's got a dilemma to solve, as he too begins to appreciate her. He first feels he truly cares for her when she gets a poison ivy rash and he does everything a loving husband would do to make his wife feel better.
She is crucial help to him in landing a construction job for a miniature golf park, she suggests a theme of famous world landmarks, and prepares sketches that sell the concept to the investors. He's missed having a female companion with intelligence. He decides to tell her the truth, but he doesn't get his confession out fast enough, she jumps the gun to tell him she knows the secret. So once again he lies, he apologizes for forgetting her birthday instead, and takes her out on a fun birthday date with lots of music and singing.
As they come back home that night, Joanna realizes she is truly happy with him, and they have their first passionate all night encounter as part of the birthday celebration.
Of course the situation remains tricky, since it is endangered if Joanna recovers her memories.
Meantime, Joanna's mother Edith (Katherine Helmond) has been hounding Grant on why she has not heard in weeks from her daughter, makes credible threats to hire mercenaries to track him down, and flies out to stay at the yacht. Under Edith's pressure, Grant reluctantly decides to end his partying and sail from Los Angeles to Elk Snout to retrieve Joanna. He finds her easily, drives in his limousine to the house she shares with Dean, and waits.
Joanna comes towards the house, sees Grant, and her memory functions well enough that she says "Hi, Grant". With that trigger, her memories rapidly return to her and she leaves Dean to rejoin Grant and her old life of material privilege on the yacht, which soon departs Elk Snout bound for New York.
However, Joanna is no longer the woman she once was and she hates the wealthy snobbishness represented by Grant, Edith and the fashionable psychiatrist (Henry Alan Miller) whose advice on how to treat her daughter is constantly used by Edith. Joanna asks for beer when she is offered champagne, and she spends time in conversations with the cook, the crew, and the butler Andrew, to whom she apologizes for treating him spitefully over the past years. Andrew helps Joanna to realize that her true happiness is with Dean and his sons, who she has been missing since the yacht left. As a result, she commands the skipper to turn back toward Elk Snout.
The film is clearly intended as a satire on the ways of the ultra-rich. There is a sharp contrast between Joanna's idle, pointless existence before her transformation and her fulfilling, useful life as a blue collar housewife after it.
Next morning, when Grant sees which way the yacht is heading, he confronts Joanna, who tells him that she doesn't love him anymore. Grant makes a subsequent remark that leads Joanna to deduce that Grant knew where she was all along, and had abandoned her in the hospital. Meantime, Dean and his kids are unhappy at doing nothing to get her back, and decide together to give it their all in one last grand effort. They pull some favors from buddies and get a Coast Guard boat to chase after the yacht, as long as there isn't any actual call for the Coast Guard boat to chase anyone else.
As the two vessels approach, Joanna and Dean see each other. The Coast Guard boat then receives an emergency call after some salmon poachers are sighted, and on the yacht Grant, who has become insane after finding out that Joanna doesn't love him, fights for control of the bridge, overpowering both the skipper and Andrew, and the boats start to veer away from each other. Dean grabs a life jacket and jumps off the Coast Guard ship, compelling it under naval protocol to circle back and pick up the man overboard. Joanna tries to jump off her yacht, but Andrew holds her back, telling her that he cannot possibly allow her to do it ... without a life jacket. She takes the jacket Andrew gives to her, jumps off the yacht and asks him to tell Edith that she will call her later, before swimming towards Dean. Now suffering a mental breakdown, Grant furiously aims a bow and arrow towards Joanna, but Andrew saves Joanna's life by kicking Grant into the water, then gives him two weeks' notice.
Needless to say, there are hugs and kisses and reunions all around. Joanna leaves Grant, and begins a happy life with Dean and the boys, only instead of Dean's shack, they are now on the yacht, after Joanna finds out and tells Dean that all of the money and the yacht actually belong to her and not Grant.
In the last scene, the boys eagerly start to make out their Christmas lists, with one of them asking for the spelling of Porsche. Dean asks Joanna "What can I give you? You already have everything!". Joanna smiles as she replies "You could give me a little girl". They kiss each other as the boat sails into the sunset.