This past Monday, Salma Hayek Pinault posted a tribute to Matthew Perry, who died over the weekend at the age of 54. “I was very moved last year when Matthew shared on his Instagram stories how much he loved ‘Fools Rush In,’ and how he thought that that film we did together was probably his best movie,” she wrote. “Throughout the years, he and I found ourselves reminiscing about that meaningful time in our lives with a deep sense of nostalgia and gratitude. My friend, you are gone much too soon, but I will continue to cherish your silliness, your perseverance, and your lovely heart.”
Most of the eulogies for Perry have focused on his performance as the nervy, sarcastic Chandler Bing in ten seasons of the megahit NBC series Friends, while acknowledging that his non-Friends work never reached those heights—in part because of his well-documented struggles with addiction and in part because Friends was such a titanic, overwhelming cultural force it could be hard to break free from its shadow.
But Pinault’s lovely remembrance centers instead on their collaboration, which was one of Perry’s notable film performances and also represents something of a road not taken for the actor. When you watch Fools Rush In, you can see a universe where Perry’s movie stardom as a rom-com leading man continued to rise.
Fools Rush In was not the only rom-com that Perry starred in, but in retrospect it’s by far the best regarded, even though at the time of its release it was seen as a disappointment by some critics. Roger Ebert, however, was a fan. “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance,” he wrote in 1997. “Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy here; the movie sees how its two cultures are different and yet share so many of the same values, and in Perry and Hayek it finds a chemistry that isn’t immediately apparent.”
Watching it now, you can see that Fools Rush In maybe wasn’t the best of its genre—Jerry Maguire had come out just months earlier—but is the kind of movie you wish people today would make more often. Directed by Andy Tennant, it sticks to its formulas, but does them well, and brings an amount of insight to its culture-clash elements that is more thoughtful than one would necessarily expect for the mid-90s.
Perry plays Alex Whitman, a WASP from New York who’s come to Vegas to oversee the construction of a nightclub. There he meets Pinault’s Isabel Fuentes, a Mexican-American photographer. They have a one night stand, and she bails in the morning. Three months later she finds him again to tell him she’s pregnant and tells him she’s keeping the baby. The one thing she asks of him is that he meets her family so they can know who the father is. That night, they decide to impulsively get married. Light chaos ensues. He thinks they are moving back to New York. She’s dedicated to remaining in Nevada. His parents are awful snoots, who think she’s a maid when they come to visit; her parents want to make sure the baby is raised Catholic.
By the time Fools Rush In came out Friends was already a massive hit, and in Perry’s performance you can see him already fighting to not be defined by Chandler alone. It’s not transformative work, to be clear. The classic Perry rhythms are still there—the way he puts a special sauce on certain words—but he gives Alex an earnestness and a confidence that the sarcastic and insecure Chandler lacked. Given that Alex is supposed to be an ambitious guy from an upper-crust family, Perry could have leaned into that white bread haughtiness.
Instead, he lets himself be beguiled by Pinault’s Isabel. During their meet-cute, when she talks him into allowing her to cut a bathroom line, we can see him falling under the spell of her charms, his eyes softening as he realizes she’s not just beautiful but savvy. The sequence when he first goes over to her family’s place for dinner could have been a minefield, but instead it’s just sweet. The plot of course requires Alex to be a bit of a jerk, unclear what he’s supposed to do as his life is upended by Isabel’s announcement, but Perry makes you root for him to figure it all out.
In Pinault’s post about Perry, she refers to a moment on Instagram where a fan asked Perry “Is playing Chandler your most treasured role or is it some other role.” He wrote, “I did a movie that I love called Fools Rush In with @salmahayek—that was probably my best movie.” Watching, you can tell he took pride in this work—a romcom full of real feeling.