Interracial or intercultural relationships are a fascinating species in rom-coms. While the caucasity levels in the genre have historically been overwhelmingly Pottery Barn-esque, in the last decade, there's been a rise in the number of interracial couples in rom-coms, which typically feature one partner who is white. While many have championed this as a leap for representation, critics have pointed out the negative messaging that can often plague these stories. In the case of Fools Rush In, we are faced with an intercultural love story with a side of espiciness, introducing viewers to a familiar, albeit lesser known trope: the life-changing Latina bombshell.
In the 1997 rom-com, Isabel Fuentes (played by Salma Hayek) is a passionate Mexican woman making a living as a "photo girl" at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas while working on a book of desert photography. She's dating a police officer but like Lana Del Rey, she isn't fulfilled by her cop-civilian romance. Alex Whitman (Matthew Perry) is a sarcastic, WASP-y architect sent to the city of sin from New York City to build a nightclub that looks like a furniture store on Jupiter. On a drive home from visiting her grandmother in Mexico, Isabel stops into a Mexican restaurant and meets Alex in line for the bathroom.
Isabel, being a big believer in fate, says they were destined to meet so she could empty her bladder. Turns out, they were actually destined to meet so they could Chandler Bang at his empty stucco track house. Three months later, Isabel shows up with news that their one-night stand lead to the colonization of her uterus. While Isabel assures Alex she wants no financial help, she does ask that he meet her family so she can at least tell her parents they met the white man who won't be making child support payments. As Alex spends an evening with Isabel's big, loud, loving family, and sees how hot and amazing she is, they decide to elope. They spend the rest of the movie trying to navigate marriage as two people from vastly different worlds who don't actually know each other. But, of course, love conquers even some pretty racist shit, and they make it back to the altar, baby girl in tow.
The Hell No's
Like many movies that feature an interracial or intercultural couple (I make the distinction because Latinx people can be racially white), including Save the Last Dance, Maid in Manhattan, Something New, Crazy/Beautiful, and Guess Who, Fools Rush In wants the viewer to believe that racial and cultural differences can't stand in the way of true love. It even attempts to sentimentalize the romantic swirl struggle with a corny metaphor about how we're all the same at heart even if we're different squirrel breeds. Blegh.
As a Mexican woman who's dated a few gringos, Fools Rush In has long been a favorite because of the affection it casts on Isabel's family and her Mexican roots while delving into the difficulties of dating someone outside of your culture. It's one of very few rom-coms to prominently feature Mexican culture. That doesn't mean those elements are divorced from the white gaze. Perry is the classic fish-out-of-water, surrounded by more brown than he's seen outside of a Brooks Brothers loafer sale. In scenes with her family, the film leans heavy into the "crazy Mexican" trope: Isabel's brothers take Alex shooting in the desert and he ends up tequila wasted and covered in cactus pricks; Isabel has a yappy chihuahua; her family redecorates their house so it's multi-colored and covered in crucifixes. It's impossible to ignore that Alex is depicted as the "normal" white surrounded by the wild, tacky Mexicans. This is a constant issue in rom-coms with interracial and intercultural couples because it reinforces the white perspective as the standard and otherizes and even ridicules the non-white person. It's why we desperately need more rom-coms featuring two people of color, and for Latinx representation to reach beyond stereotypes. In Fools Rush In, we also see the emergence of the life-changing Latina bombshell trope, in which the bland, cultureless partner learns to live more fully thanks to the vivacious, babely Latina that pushes them outside of their comfort zone. She is fiery and sexy and, for some reason, loves boring white guys; and she stands in contrast to a more "suitable" white partner (in this case, the daughter of a family friend), as proof that the more "difficult" road leads to greater happiness and seeing the world with new eyes. Other examples of this can be seen in Spanglish, Maid in Manhattan, or the sitcom Modern Family.
Thankfully, Perry pours on the endearing Chandler-esque wit, so while he's a gangly dweeb compared to uber fox Salma Hayek, you can kind of believe she would be willing to elope with him. However, in one blaring, record scratch moment in the film, Alex's WASPy parents show up to his house unannounced, and come face-to-face with Isabel, who they assume is the housekeeper. Yikes! Alex's mom even notes that he must find great "help" being so close to the border. Double yikes! Alex does not correct them, and only admits Isabel is his wife after she tears him a new one. That's triple yikes! Mami, run!
Por Qué Is That a Problem?
The narrative that we're all the same at heart is well-intentioned nonsense that effectively erases the real concerns of people of color. To have that sentiment come from the person that would most be affected by racism is some placating-to-white-guilt bullshit. Two people from different backgrounds can acknowledge that they have opposing experiences and beliefs, and that one may have greater privilege within our society, and still love each other. Then that love is built with the one person less likely to face microaggressions in their relationship. Plenty of people in interracial and intercultural relationships do it, and struggle, and still buy matching couples outfits. It's forced colorblindness like this that makes it unsurprising that two non-Mexican white women wrote the screenplay (the late Katherine Reback and Joan Taylor) and a white man directed it (Andy Tennant). The film inevitably retains their gaze, and sides with the nice white guy for having good intentions rather than fully holding him (and, in effect, themselves) accountable for his internalized ideas of Mexicans.
And so as a result, Isabel is faced with a partner who tried to hide her and then didn't call his parents out when they make racist comments about her. It then seems like Alex enjoys having a sexy Mexican wife who dances while cooking and teaches him to embrace seasoned food and salsa music, but not actually worry himself with the harmful ways she is affected by the world and how he enables that. In effect, it comes off like they love each other in spite of their cultural differences rather than at least in part because of them, and he gets to pick and choose the parts of her cultural identity he finds attractive while ignoring those that are harder to deal with.
Pero Can I Watch This or Is it Canceled?
First of all, Mexicans don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Only drunk white bros and broettes do, so having Isabel's family have a fiesta in honor of this non-holiday is nonsense. But there are nowhere near enough movies that center on interracial or intercultural relationships, let alone ones that capture the richness of Mexican culture. Fools Rush In is worthwhile and important in large part because of this. While the white gaze jumps out regularly throughout, you still get a love story with laughs and Matthew Perry getting an ass full of cactus pricks so worth the watch.