How Did This Romantic Comedy Ever Get Made?

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Two weeks ago, I was doing my end-of-July roundup of what’s coming to and leaving Netflix in August. My eyes were glazing over (the lists were pretty long), when suddenly, there it was: Fools Rush In. The 1997 romantic comedy starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek would no longer be available to stream instantly come August 1.

I’m sure most people wouldn’t give its departure from Netflix a second thought, but for some reason, I think about Fools Rush In a lot. I probably think about it even more than Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek, or anyone involved in the movie would want someone to, considering its sub-par $29 million box office haul and 33% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m weirdly fascinated by how movies of its ilk come to be, and I know I’m not alone in this interest, because podcasts like How Did This Get Made and The Flop House exist. Neither of them have ever looked into the bizarre, clash-of-cultures wonder that is Fools Rush In, though, so I decided to give it a whirl.

When Fools Rush In was green-lit, Friends was reaching the apex of its cultural ascendency. The show premiered on NBC in September 1994. By March 1995, the cast was on the cover of Rolling Stone, and the accompanying story declared Friends a “full-blown cultural phenomenon.” The six actors were officially famous, recognizable, and marketable as a unit, but it was time to see if America would buy them individually as well.

David Schwimmer, the one who Rolling Stone painted as the handsome breakout star of the show, tried his luck with The Pallbearer (1996). That same year, Matt LeBlanc starred in Ed (1996). Their performances earned them Razzie nominations for “Worst New Star,” which they shared with Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow in a special grouping called “Friends cast members turned movie star wannabes.” Despite this inauspicious box office reception, Hollywood execs seemed determined to convince audiences that they were in fact dying to see the Friends squad in feature films.

So, into the wolves den hapless jokester Matthew Perry was thrown, starring as the romantic lead opposite Salma Hayek. In Fools Rush In, Perry is essentially playing Chandler Bing, albeit with a different name (Alex Whitman), job (successful real estate developer), and background (Alex hails from uptight WASP-y stock). Still, his mannerisms, jokes, and body language remain the same.

Hayek’s character, Isabel Fuentes, is a Mexican-American photographer who is deeply religious (Catholic) and believes that everything in life is predestined. Hayek brings it in Fools Rush In, her first comedic leading role in a movie. Rather than trying to sync up with Perry’s offbeat joke patterns, she finds her own rhythm and humorous beats. The result, unfortunately, is two leads who act around, rather than with, one another.
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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Alex and Isabel first meet in a long bathroom line at a Mexican restaurant outside Las Vegas, where they get into a discussion about fate and destiny versus randomness and religion (a conversation many of us have had with a stranger in a unisex bathroom line, for sure). We're given no evidence of why on earth this would lead to them sleeping together, but wind up in bed they do. Isabel sneaks out without saying goodbye the next morning.

Three months later, she’s back at Alex’s house to say that she’s pregnant, and she’s keeping the baby. She’s only telling him as a formality, but he blurts out a few Chandler-esque lines about the inefficacy of condoms and being pro-choice anyway.

Somehow, his charming reaction to her pregnancy is enough to convince Isabel that she and Alex should wed in Vegas. We’re then treated to a questionably racist montage of the couple adjusting to conjugal bliss that only gets worse when Alex’s parents show up. They think Isabel is his housekeeper, and he doesn’t correct them. There’s bound to be cultural tension to drive the plot forward, but did the writers have to go there?

Alex eventually clears up the misconception, but the situation worsens again when Alex and Isabel’s parents meet (during a Cinco de Mayo celebration) and have an incredibly tense face-off about raising the baby Catholic versus Presbyterian. This argument includes the line “The white people are melting out here.” A quick reminder that this is supposed to be a comedy, not a commentary on race relations in U.S./Mexico border states.

Alex and Isabel decide that their relationship is stronger than their parents think, and they can overcome their cultural and religious differences. You silently cheer, until you realize that there’s still about an hour left in the movie, which can only mean that they are, of course, going to break up because of some typical rom-com contrivance.

And then, the plot thickens: Workaholic man chooses job over pregnant wife; she feels neglected and decides she’s better off raising the baby on her own, so she fakes a miscarriage and sends him packing. Remember, in these movies, no one ever asks a doctor or nurse for proof that said miscarriage did actually occur. Alex just shows up at the hospital, Isabel says that there’s no more baby, and then he’s back home in New York City (he was only in Las Vegas to oversee the construction of a nightclub) before you can say “sign these divorce papers on the dotted line.”

I won’t go into any more detail, but suffice to say that Alex and Isabel realize they’re miserable without one another. They have the big clichéd reunion during a rainstorm atop the Hoover Dam (a recurring motif in the film because hydropower is very romantic) while Isabel is in labor. Alex isn’t even mad that she lied about losing the baby. They remarry on a desert cliff while "Fools Rush In" plays over the credits.

Fools Rush In isn’t the worst movie of all time, and it’s not even the most bizarre religious-differences-based romantic comedy. That dubious honor goes to 2000's Keeping the Faith (maybe I should write about that one next). Fools Rush In gets lost in the endless sea of '90s romantic comedies because there’s just nothing that grabs you and keeps you invested in the characters and their story. To this day, it remains entirely unclear how it came to exist. So this is a paraphrased version of the conversation I imagine birthed Fools Rush In unto the world. Is it any wonder that the world responded with a big, fat “Meh?"

INT. BOARD ROOM - DAY

Studio executive 1: America loves Chandler. We need a movie with Chandler.

Studio executive 2: Any type of movie in particular? Action? Period? Romantic comedy?

Studio exec. 1: The last one. Pair him up with that sexy chick with the snake.

Studio exec. 2: Um, what?

Assistant in the corner: Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn?

Studio exec. 1: Yeah. Her.

Studio exec. 2: Should we have them do a chemistry read? See if they work as a couple?

Studio exec. 1: Nah. Principal photography starts next week. Have someone write a script. Meeting adjourned so we can go play golf and brainstorm more ways to keep women from attaining positions of power in Hollywood.

Fin.

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