Directed by: Andrew Ahn
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every few years there will be a contemporary film riff on one of Jane Austen’s works. Whether it is a film about a bunch of rich upper east siders in “Metropolitan”, Californian high school teens in “Clueless”, or a single British lady working in the publishing industry in “Bridget Jones Diary”, Austen’s work has been able to transcend her era through her still refreshing feminism and keen eye for social dynamics. “Fire Island” attempts to adapt the social dynamics of class and relationship found in “Pride and Prejudice” to modern dating culture in the LGBTQ community to mixed but agreeable results.
The film follows Noah, played by first-time feature film writer Joel Kim Booster, who is broke and commitment-phobic. But, for one week, along with his found family of gay friends including his best friend Howie (Bowen Yang), they take a pilgrimage out to Fire Island. There, they are taken in by their lesbian matriarch Erin (played wonderfully by Margaret Cho). For the aging friend group, all nearing or already in their 30s, this week of drinking, sex, and fun might be their final shared hurrah as the responsibilities of life loom.
For Noah and Howie, their friendship has been teetering since Howie moved to the west coast. Howie is also lovelorn but Noah projects onto him, thinking the only thing he needs is a good lay as opposed to finding love. Things come to a head when Howie meets Charlie (James Scully), a wealthy doctor whose innocent exterior is endearing. Along with Charlie is his best friend Will (Conrad Ricamora) – the Mr. Darcy of this adaptation. As are all “Pride and Prejudice” analogs, Noah finds himself attracted and repelled to the stern hard exterior of Mr. Darcy, while the charming Dex (Zane Phillips) – the Mr. Wickham of this adaptation – is right there.
Joel Kim Booster’s screenplay is ripe with funny quips and bits – the extended bit involving a sunset is a perfect combination of humor and sentimentality and shorthand for the community – but oftentimes it feels like playwriting 101. Even with the narration from Noah, the script often bogs down to a stiff expression of feelings and thoughts. What can’t be faked however is the chemistry between the friend group. Along with Noah and Howie, the friend group’s (portrayed by Tomas Matos, Torian Miller, and Matt Rogers) found family vibe anchors the film beyond its raunchy and improvisational one-liners.
Also grounding the film is indie film stalwart, Andrew Ahn, whose previous films “Spa Night” and “Driveways” may make him a strange candidate for a broad romantic comedy, but what he has always excelled at is human relationships. There are far more quiet moments in this than the trailer seems to indicate, allowing relationships to grow naturally. Unfortunately, Booster and Yang do not exactly deliver the heft of those moments as well as more veteran dramatic actors like Ricamora – who proves that he should be a romantic lead in more things.
As an adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Fire Island” presents itself as revelatory by just being the rare LGBTQ-centric romantic comedy made for broad appeal. It also feels revelatory for not falling into the staid categories of LGBTQ-themed films such as the coming-out narrative or the disease trauma narrative. This is just a pleasant warm romantic comedy – the equivalent of digging your feet into the summer sand on the beach.
“Fire Island” Trailer