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Movie Review: Fire Island

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When I saw the half-naked men in promos for gay rom-com Fire Island, I erroneously assumed it was a reality dating show. That placed Fire Island in my mental queue just after finishing Love is Blind Brazil. Meaning moderately high, but not at the top of my To Watch list.

But then Sarah told me it was actually a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice about a group of friends who vacation stay with their lesbian house mom, played by Margaret Cho.

I stopped what I was doing and watched it immediately.

And I’m telling you to do the same because this movie is lighthearted fun, y’all.

Let's go!

Four men wave and shout Get on the Boat from the railing

Witty Noah (Joel Kim Booster) and nerdy Howie (Bowen Yang) have been best friends since they bonded over being the only Asian-American waiters at a boozy brunch spot in New York City. Years later, they still don’t have much money, but they have an annual tradition of spending a beach week on New York’s Fire Island with their best gay pals and fellow servers Max, Keegan, and Luke at a house owned by their Mrs Bennett-esque older friend (Margaret Cho).

Noah has no trouble pulling one night stands all year long so he offers to help perpetually single Howie step up his game, and make this the first year he gets laid on Fire Island. They’ve only been on the island a hot minute when Howie meets Charlie, a gorgeous doctor with the personality of a golden retriever, who invites Howie to a posh party at his mansion, ahem, beach house. The whole gang tags along, ostensibly to help Howie land Charlie, although the Lydia and Kitty characters spend most of the evening downing free liquor and cheese while being as loud as possible.

Charlie’s rich friends aren’t impressed, and Noah takes an instant dislike to uptight Will, played by How to Get Away with Murder’s snackable Conrad Ricamora. Cue banter, matchmaking, class collisions and drama! I was completely sucked in within ten minutes of this film. Will Charlie’s friends keep him and Howie apart? Is Will really as unfeeling as he seems? And how long will it take Noah to realize the hot guy who he’s flirting with is clearly a Wickham in disguise?

Fire Island is possibly the funniest thing that I have watched all year. I kept having to pause because I was laughing too hard to be able to hear. For example, Noah describes the inanity of Charlie’s entourage by explaining that one of the partygoers thought that troll-like American Senator Lindsey Graham had starred in The Parent Trap. There’s some epic clubbing scenes, including one where Noah persuades Will to compete in a dance-off judged by a drag queen. Will’s awkward and playfully robotic moves made me laugh until I almost peed.

Click if you love robots

Conrad Ricamora wiggles his arms and smirks in a dark club

The arc of Pride and Prejudice translates well to this setting, and the movie hits many of the emotional beats of the original story. The Lydia and Wickham storyline is particularly pitch perfect. I adored flamboyant Keegan and himbo Luke as the Kitty and Lydia characters. They have an endearing quality that made me want to hug them, while keeping the key “you’re embarrassing me” energy.

Click for totally sedate behavior

Two tan men in tight tees hop excitedly behind the text My Biological Clock is Ticking Like This

I loved that Fire Island doesn’t lock itself into P&P’s structure, like when we get a resolution for the characters in the Lydia and Elizabeth roles and for their relationship, one that doesn’t happen in the original story. I was also happy to see Charlotte’s bittersweet storyline excised entirely. Austen movie fans will have fun with the many references, including a dramatic scene in the rain echoing Darcy’s declaration of love in the 2005 version. I adored how the movie handled Noah shutting down Will’s moment of vulnerability. Will tells Noah to get over himself, which I honestly think he needed to hear. The P&P references are just the cherry on top, however. Like Clueless, the movie is fabulous enough to transcend the book it’s based on.

Along with being funny and fan service for Austenites, Fire Island has two sweet and satisfying love stories. We get drama and passion between Noah and Will—and I loved seeing Ricamora finally playing the leading man he was clearly meant to be after years of playing shy second fiddle on HTGAWM.

Click for eye candy

shirtless Asian-American man nods behind the text Noted

I wasn’t sure how the movie would handle Noah’s sex positivity in the context of falling for Will. At one point, he says “Monogamy was invented by straight people to make us less interesting.”

Show Spoiler

So when Noah and Will end up with the non-monogamy HEA of my dreams, I cheered.

Meanwhile, Howie is the sweetest man on earth, so kind and easily bruised, and worn down by a dating scene that doesn’t appreciate his softness. I just wanted all the good things to happen to him. I would like to watch a sequel where Charlie and Howie buy a house in San Francisco and decorate it together. That’s it, the entire plot.

There are so many other things I loved about Fire Island, like it’s smart skewering of gay dating culture’s “No fats, No fems, No Asians” ethos, and the class segregation that happens in queer social scenes. I thought it was brilliant to use “Time works differently on Fire Island” to explain how an entire relationship could develop in a week’s vacation. I loved the idea of a group of working class queers building family and traditions together.

Click for cuteness

I adored the secondary characters, and my main critique was that we don’t see much of Max, the only Black and only fat character in the movie. Max is based on dour Mary, who is my favorite of the Bennet sisters. Mary needs her own movie, and so does Max! There’s a great moment where Max accidentally gets high at a club and falls for his own reflection, but I wanted more.

I would have loved to see a movie with so much sex do a deep dive on a buttoned up character like Mary. I also wanted more Margaret Cho, but that’s just because…she’s Margaret Cho. Who could get enough of that? She kills her scenes though, offering helpful advice like “Everybody should fuck on Fire Island…[which for Howie means] vanilla sex with the man of your dreams.”

Is it sacreligious to say that Fire Island might topple Clueless from its perch as my favorite modern Austen interpretation? I don’t know, y’all. It was pretty damn fantastic, and blissfully free of borderline incest vibes. As a fan of the other gay beach spot, Provincetown, I have no idea how accurate Fire Island’s depiction is. Still, this movie made my belly hurt from laughing, hooked me with a love story I’m still thinking about, and gave me vacation vibes without ever making me leave my house. I highly recommend it.

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