"Fools Rush In": Rom-Com as Essay on Judgment

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Fools Rush In is a 1997 romantic comedy pairing Matthew Perry at the height of his Friends fame and Salma Hayek with only a handful of English-speaking roles on her resume. The plot is the standard the stuff of the genre often referred both lovingly and pejoratively to as Rom-Coms: opposites attract under the most unlikely potential for long-term success and then must deal with their pressures that obstruct the road to living happily ever after before—as they must—attaining at least the pre-end credits promise of living happily ever after. The title of the film derives from a line in the Alexander Pope poem “An Essay on Criticism” that serves as a warning to those that eschew a careful consideration of judgment in favor of an instinctual decision based on a profound trust of emotional sense rather than cautionary logic. The film thus become relevant to conceptions of leadership as it effectively dramatizes in a way that makes palpable and tangible the potential for making effective leadership decisions on a gut level that touches upon everything from generic hunches to Malcolm Gladwell’s theoretical proposition outlined in his book Blink of the brain’s inherent capacity for “thin slicing” in the decision-making process.

The narrative brings together the polar opposite characters of Alex Whitman with his safe and cautionary approach to life rooted in his WASP upbringing and Isabel, an earthier Mexican-American woman who is firmly committed to the concept of fate and predestination as it is presented in her Roman Catholic background.

Isabel’s assertion that “There is a reason behind all logic to bring us the exact same time and place” becomes the foundation upon which the film examines the idea of whether rushing into decisions is a fool’s errand that even angels equipped with eternal notions of time and wisdom dare not tempt.

In his essay, Pope coins the now famous caution against trusting too much in one’s immediate senses to the detriment of rational reasoning in a way that strongly suggests that it is not just poets who should work hard to learn as much as their intellect can reasonably contain through a process of knowledge acquisition that never ceases. At the same time, however, his poem also goes on to admonish against overstepping the boundaries of the reach of one’s knowledge and the extent to which that knowledge can be put to use when critical reasoning processes leading to decision-making.

Alex and Isabel, despite their cultural differences and divergent attitudes to how life should be lived, both fail to take heed of Pope’s warning against rushing into things without proper rational consideration. In the world of millennial-era romantic comedy, this means primarily that they fail to deliberate to a proper degree on the conceivable consequences of engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. The day following their tryst seems to have whittled the uncontrollable attraction both felt toward each the night before down to something far more susceptible to logical perception. Realizing that the distance between their backgrounds and philosophies are too expansive for any chance at a serious relationship, they part ways with little intention of seeking reconciliation. Three months later, the reason for reconciliation is unavoidably conceivable: the conception of a fetus growing within Isabel’s womb.

The filmmakers stand firm in their conviction that Pope is overly concerned about the long-term consequences of sacrificing sober judgment in place of leading with the heart’s intangible ability to sense the right path to pursue. In proper romantic comedy tradition, Alex and Isabel make the decision to get married for the sake of the baby and—since this is a romantic comedy, after all—the ceremony takes place on the Vegas strip with an Elvis impersonator as the official legal witness. Nothing in real life suggests that this marriage can possibly turn out well and for much of the rest of the film, events conspire to at least pay lip service to the possibility that reel life will emulate real life. With the notable exception of Annie Hall, however, few films that adhere so strictly to the conventions of this genre ever end with their romantic partners not ending up together.

The cultural background steeped in the psychology of the divergent paths of Christianity are at the forefront of the conspiracy against Alex and Isabel. The staid WASP background is pitted in full force against the more emotionally raw Catholicism of Isabel’s family to the point that means by which religion has infused their very psyche reaches a boiling point at which Isabel observes with rational insight that for her husband “a family is something you put up with on national holidays.” Such constrictions upon the ability of rushing into a decision with all the foresight of fools daring to go where angels dare no tread cannot hold up under the crushing weight of the movie’s trust that Pope is a far worse judge of the ability of humans to make the right in the blink of an eye than, say, Malcolm Gladwell. The pervasive theme running throughout the ill-advised decision of its two leading characters to jump into bed with each other and their culture-crossed attempts to fend off the negative reactions of family on both sides of the aisle is that when fools rush into a decision based on a profound trust in their own senses, they rarely get proven wrong.

Fools Rush In may well be merely a simple, cookie-cutter example of a romantic comedy, but beneath the plot contrivances and the Rom-Com clutter of generic expectations lies a heartfelt critique of the very poem which lent it its title. Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” is really more rightly interpreted as an instructional manual for what is necessary in the pursuit of attaining solid judgment; a trait upon which Pope places great distinction and which he also recognizes only arrives at great hazard to those who pursue it. The happy reunion which brings Alex and Isabel back together a second time before the film fades out might well be viewed as a lesson in how the judgement that must be acquired to become an effective leader often comes as the result of trusting one’s emotions rather than one’s intellect.