Fire Island offers up a potent cocktail of queer comedy and Austenian romance

click to enlarge Fire Island offers up a potent cocktail of queer comedy and Austenian romance
A regular Darcy and Lizzie: Will (Conrad Ricamora, left) and Noah (Joel Kim Booster).

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

The first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice also opens Fire Island. However, after reciting the prose, Noah (Joel Kim Booster) immediately calls it "heteronormative nonsense," rolls out of bed, and tells the guy he hooked up with last night that he needs to leave. Yes, Fire Island is a modern comedic gay reimagining of that classic book, but it also doesn't have time for some of the the novel-of-manners B.S.

This version of the story — adapted for screen by Kim Booster — finds Noah, his best friend Howie (Bowen Yang), and their comedic relief pals heading to the famed gay resort Fire Island for their yearly summer getaway at the home of their lesbian "mom" Erin (Margaret Cho). While Noah is rather freewheeling and confident as he bounces from hookup to hookup, Howie wants a relationship like he's seen in rom-coms.

Despite that, Noah makes it his goal to get Howie laid, thinking it'll lift his spirits. When Howie stumbles into meeting (and falling for) Charlie (James Scully), their clashing friend groups raise the dramatic stakes — Charlie's pals are rich, aloof doofuses (including the ultra stoic Will played by Conrad Ricamora), while Howie's crew are mostly kinda-broke guys just looking to have fun. The class distinctions that lead to culture-clash drama and comedy are less tied up in Austenian aristocracy and more a general air of these poors have student debt and less-defined abs, eww. And as Noah tries to set up Charlie, there's a begrudging spark between him and the standoffish Will, with each party being too, well, prideful to admit their growing feelings.

Fire Island hits on the broad strokes of Pride and Prejudice — character relations, rain-drenched chases and hidden affections — but thankfully isn't insistent on 1:1 detail replication. (For those tracking the parallels: Noah is Elizabeth, Will is Mr. Darcy, Howie is Jane, Charlie is Mr. Bingley, and the pals are the Bennet sisters.)

Director Andrew Ahn really nails the comedic pace, which goes harder than an underwear party on Fire Island. While the film isn't loaded with huge centerpiece moments of gut-busting hilarity, the consistency of the laughs throughout Kim Booster's script is fantastic and frenetic. It feels like there's at least one joke almost every minute of the film, even if they're just little gay digs between the pals or cute, silly flirtatious lines. There are scenes far from Austenian properness that prevent it from feeling like a tired rehash, be it clubbing with everyone on different drugs, Instagram stalking and Grindr swiping, or the glee when the friends (poorly) count down the sunsets.

There's also enough emotional character building that Fire Island's laughs don't feel hollow. Really, the movie comes down to Kim Booster and Yang, who both nail their star turns. Their thirtysomething queer romantic existentialism actually maps near perfectly onto the stressors of daughters needing to be married off. In Noah, Kim Booster finds the line between cocksure swagger and distrustful brooding know-it-all arrogance that makes the will-they-or-won't-they with Will compelling despite the obvious endpoint.

Howie, however, is the key pivot point, as he has much more depth than Jane (his Pride and Prejudice corollary) is afforded. Rather than being the most beautiful catch, he's the cynical intellectual who feels like his looks and demeanor might prevent him from ever finding his fairytale romance. Yang plays the part with a fetching combo of woe-is-me vulnerability and side-eyed bitchy snark, becoming an empathetic vessel when it seems things won't work out.

Some things never change: love, heartache, social divides, moments of flirtatious awkwardness. Other things do: fashions, technologies, and who we're allowed to openly love. Fire Island is a worthwhile trip because it knows how to combine the timeless with the modern. ♦

Three Stars Fire Island
Rated R
Directed by Andrew Ahn
Starring Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora
Streaming on Hulu

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Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...