The cute romantic comedy Fire Island takes the story of Pride and Prejudice and really ups the Pride.
Written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, the film modernizes Jane Austen’s much-adapted 1813 novel, sets it in the bustling New York beach resort, and turns nearly every character into a queer man in his 30s. Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Mary, Wickham: They’re all here with new names, colorful tank tops, and Grindr.
Running time: 105 minutes. Rated R (strong sexual content, language, drug use, some nudity). On Hulu.
Booster’s idea is brilliant. Fire Island, and gay culture in general, is brimming with rules and etiquette dating back to 19th-century England: there are parties called Tea Dances (Britain loves tea! The Bennets love planned dances!), events have dress codes and Several people platonically share a bedroom as if they were on the brink of the industrial revolution.
On the darker side, members of the gay community—contrary to their open-arms stance—may make hasty judgments based on race and class.
For someone to be ignored by potential friends because their rental home isn’t opulent enough, or given the cold shoulder by a love interest because they don’t fit a certain Instagram model mold, is very Austen 2022.
The film, which strays into an over-the-top second half, is at its most charming when it channels the dead author’s gift for wise observations about fastidious society. Only here does the witty comment revolve around the Meat Rack, Fire Island’s infamous hangout.
It begins with a group of friends from New York and California getting together for a week of outrageous fun at the Fire Island Pines.
Noah (Booster) is Lizzie’s sex-obsessed replacement; Howie (Bowen Yang) doesn’t feel welcome in the gay hotspot’s club scene; Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomás Matos) are joined at the hip as are perky Romy and Michele; and Max (Torian Miller) would rather just read.
The gang live in the cheap house of Erin (Margaret Cho), a lesbian longtime Pines resident on the brink of losing her beloved abode. The boys estimate that this summer will be their last together.
Aside from its literary sensibilities, the film is a piece of American pie. Noah has promised Howie he won’t get involved with anyone until the shy Howie gets laid first, putting pressure on their two holidays. Enter Charlie (James Scully), a smiling doctor, and Will (Conrad Ricamora), his successful and grumpy friend – a human ice palace. Howie begins a sweet flirtation with Charlie, while Noah immediately loathes Will, a la Lizzie and Darcy.
Then Booster’s film, directed by Andrew Ahn, tries to do too many things at once. One side is the clever Austen adaptation, the other a twist on the rom-com genre to the point of parody. There’s dialogue that’s too cliche, both written and delivered, and the plot spirals out of control. Another criticism is that the interpretation of Wickham’s betrayal – the more dramatic conflict – is an overblown disappointment. Such is the silly finale.
There’s a lot to like though, especially the talent.
Ricamora is the real star of the film. An actor who’s consistently brilliant on stage (he just played Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway) and did a strong job on the TV series How To Get Away With Murder, he’s nowhere near enough seen in movies. More Conrad, please! He has sizzling chemistry here with Booster, who, while best known for his stand-up performances, is a delicate, smart, fully trained actor.
Yang’s gift, which may surprise his “Saturday Night Live” fans, is how he can express his emotions so genuinely. He doesn’t get too many opportunities to demonstrate this ability when playing Titanic’s Iceberg in Weekend Update.
It’s used in the best scene of Fire Island, which is also one of the easiest. It takes place upstairs in the bathroom during a party when Noah and Howie share a heated heart to heart about their friendship. This moment hits harder and rings truer than anything that comes after.
Still, a few blissful hours on Hulu is cheaper and more convenient than a week-long Fire Island housemate.