Although I’m certainly not suggesting that fire island won’t gain crossover appeal with straight audiences – damn, I even saw this movie with a straight guy – queer audiences are sure to whole-heartedly embrace Joel Kim Boosteris a delightfully funny, sometimes wild comedy, in a way that is utterly personal and significantly unique from the mainstream.
Of course, in addition to being a film that will find its mass appeal with queer audiences, it is written, directed, produced and pitched by Asian men, a demographic so often undervalued and underrepresented. in queer media. Now I’m really not trying to take this to an overtly serious place when the movie in question is such a well-constructed comedy, but there’s no denying how important it is fire island is to so many in the community – even though it’s tied to a movie that feels like it could be so chewy and lightly digestible.
In a glorious take on the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice, fire island settles into the titular location for a week of debauchery slated for Noah (Booster) and his besties-cum-choice family, Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (matt rogers), Kegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller). Fire Island, an incredibly gay village off the south shore of Long Island, has long been claimed as the go-to spot for gay vacations by the sub-sect of wealthy, enviably sculpted, very, very white gay men. Safe to say, Noah and co. do not fully correspond to the brief; although Booster, Rogers and Matos are all deducted one point for being physically fit for “outsiders” considered.
Romantic comedy mayhem eventually ensues as Noah (our Elizabeth Bennett, for those who rate it) sets out to play matchmaker for Howie (our Jane), or, at least, match his soldiers to another island jumper, hoping that his continually self-doubting best friend will realize that he is far more temperamental than he realizes. It’s here, in Booster’s commentary on image and status, that the film gets alarmingly deep, giving subtle nods to the very real issue of body dysmorphia within the community, as well as tackling head-on the incredibly cruel “catch-phrase” of “No fats, no fems, no Asians” that so many gay “dating” apps advertise. equally gruesome is the one that affects the main quintet in some way – Noah and Howie are Asian, Keegan and Luke are on the female side, and Max is fatter (and black too) – and although the script de Booster acknowledges its hurtful overtones, it’s never viscerally explored to keep the film comical. While it might have been beneficial for the film to comment more on this, the mere fact that it’s mentioned so overtly is enough victory.
Among queer communal politics and nightclub orgies (yes, the film, while not overly graphic, doesn’t shy away from presenting its promiscuous sexual activity with some glee), there’s a series of dueling romances to have. Howie, seemingly unaccustomed to any kind of genuine attention from men of an aesthetic nature, is instantly smitten with a doe-eyed doctor, Charlie (James Scully), while Noah increasingly battles his disguised attraction to Will (Conrad Ricamora), his own Mr. Darcy, Charlie’s friend and seemingly fun cop who initially thinks of Noah and his friends as trashy island types who tend to go to every party possible; to Will’s credit, they do indeed attend all the parties and act in a less than savory way, but that’s not for Will to assume before witnessing it himself.
Even if it was not based on such well-known literature as Pride and Prejudice, fire islandromantic-comedy inclinations would easily lead us to see where the narrative was headed, but it’s because it revolves around Austen’s tale that we’re even more easily forgiven of its genre conventions; in any other situation I might roll my eyes at a scene of an argument in the rain, here I welcome Noah and Will airing some of their grievances in such a downpour.
While its climax is completely unsurprising, the journey to get there is so beautifully funny and personally poignant that it ultimately doesn’t bother you. It’s certainly hugely beneficial that the whole ensemble leans into their characters with wild abandon, with Booster, Yang and Ricamora centering the film with a more relevant and grounded approach to their performances, while Rogers and, in particular, Matos lace the film with a flamboyance that gives the setting a healthy balance; those opposing tones coming together in a standout moment involving the “Heads Up” game, where Will’s inability to guess Keegan’s actress Marisa Tomei and Luke’s clues results in a slew of on-the-nose lines that I dare say every fag man has uttered a variant of when these iconic actresses go unrecognized.
So there is Marguerite Cho as Mrs. Bennett from that movie, the boys’ “den mother,” Erin; “Career brunch waitress, age unknown, lesbian scam queen,” as she is so fondly described. Erin, who has a tattoo above her lower regions reading ‘All You Can Eat Salad’ and ate a piece of glass about 5 years prior at a major Italian food chain, leading to a settlement important who funded her getaway to Fire Island, is essentially the catalyst for the movie’s procedural, and while this is absolutely Booster and Yang’s movie, she brings enough lesbian bravado to the table to completely devour every scene. she’s in, possessing even the smallest of throwaway lines or background moments.
Like over the top fire island can be perceived by the general public – and I really hope that being a “gay movie” doesn’t deter people from watching it, as it’s bitingly written and warmly romantic, more so than many others muffled genres because, you know, straight A-list stars — it feels very inherently real to the community it’s obviously made for. So often confined to being a stereotype, Booster and director Andrew Ahn embraced all facets of what makes queer people so fabulously entertaining (yes, maybe some of the stereotypes are true) and intricately deep with a respectful and, above all, funny effort that only raises one question: Joel, can you address Sense and sensitivity Next?
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
fire island airs on Disney+ under the Star banner from June 17, 2022