Before Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island” even begins, the main cast imparts the famous Alfred Newman Searchlight Fanfare out of tune, a giddy, bright, and vibrant rendition that perfectly sets the mood for the next 105 minutes. That tune perfectly sums up Noah, Howie, Keegan, Luke, and Max’s rowdy, fun-loving family as they embark on a week of men, sex, sun, and water on Fire Island.
Joel Kim Booster, who wrote the screenplay, stars as Noah. The handsomely-built Noah is overly confident and knows the world, but he’s sound asleep in his New York flat as we meet him, having bedded a guy the previous night. I wouldn’t say Noah is a commitment-phobe, but I trained my eye on his candy. If you pay attention to his dialogue and behaviors throughout the film, he is a modern take on Elizabeth Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice.”
Wait for a tick! THE “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen? That “Pride and Prejudice?!”
Yes, the very “Pride and Prejudice” that Ms. Austen wrote those many years ago has been updated into an LGBTQIA+ story, filled with the same quirks that populate the community today and the novel as it was in 1813. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The “family” of Noah, Howie (Bowen Yang), Keegan (Tomás Matos), Luke (Matt Rogers), and Max (Torian Miller) venture off to the barrier island off Long Island known as Fire Island for an annual retreat. The boys shack up with their overprotective mother, Erin, played by the wonderfully subdued Margaret Cho. Each character is based on a respective character in the Austen novel as Noah tries to play matchmaker for Howie, who is down on his luck. All of them are successes in one way or another, but because Fire Island is home to wealthy New Yorkers’ summer homes, the competition is on, and it clashes in the funniest of ways.
Booster’s script focuses its attention on Noah and Howie, the centrifugal force holding the family together, so it is with irony that Noah is running late from his date. The remainder of the cast lends itself to the flavor of the rivalry between the “haves” and “have-nots,” but they are no less fun, especially when the crew hits the various hook-up spots.
Howie wants more out of life and doesn’t feel he measures up; Noah wants nothing more than to see his best friend find that love while ignoring his desires. Enter Charlie (James Scully) and Will (Conrad Ricamora), a doctor and lawyer. The story surreptitiously adds drama to the fracas beyond dating and hooking up; however, that doesn’t detract Noah from trying to pair Howie with Charlie, who quite obviously hit it off while Will’s eyes Noah. Both Will and Noah try to protect their friends with a fun and hilarious consequences.
Yes, “Fire Island” is predictable; it’s based on a 209-year-old novel adapted several times. That Booster and Ahn were able to bring it into the 21st century and adapt its characters into a family of LGBTQIA+ characters, all of whom celebrate differing cultures, is not a stretch. Ahn’s eyes were focused on the look and feel of the film as tensions rose. Those tensions, whether based on material wealth or love, are front and center on the screen, thanks to Felipe Vara de Rey’s brightly lit cinematography. Vera de Rey and Ahn create an unexpected intimacy with their framing and depth of field.
If nothing else, “Fire Island” does not feel like a stage adaptation made for the screen. It feels natural and familial. It helps that I smiled through the movie; I laughed, and I very nearly wanted to cry. The emotions are real.
I will say this, though. “Fire Island” deserved to be seen on the big screen. I know we live in an age of technology and that the quickest way to the heart is via streaming (hook up the Iced Chai Tea Latte line to the IV, would you?!). There are too few mainstream LGBTQIA+ movies on the big screen, and an adaptation of Ms. Austen’s novel seems appropriate, even though it would have gone up against that big box office meanie, “Top Gun: Maverick.” That we get “Fire Island” at all is a miracle. That we’re clamoring for representation on a bigger screen is even more critical.
Bravo! to Andrew Ahn, Joel Jim Booster, Bowen Yang, and the rest of the cast for such a creative, inspired take on Ms. Austen’s novel.
“Fire Island” is now streaming on Hulu in the U.S. and will be streaming on Star+ in Latin America and Star on Disney+ in other international territories starting on June 17th.
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