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A modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, we follow a group of friends – anchored by jaded, cynical Noah and earnest, romantic Howie – as they vacation on Fire Island, the legendary getaway destination for New York’s gay community. There, they find out that their surrogate mother figure, Erin, has gone broke and has to sell the vacation home where they always stay, meaning this will be their last year on the island.
You’d find fewer stars looking up at the night sky. Joel Kim Booster wrote and stars in this film, and you may know him from his standup or his appearance alongside Aidy Bryant in Shrill or starring alongside Kal Penn in the short-lived Sunnyside. Likewise, you will no doubt recognize Bowen Yang from his brilliant work on Saturday Night Live, for which he was last year nominated for an Emmy. Conrad Ricamora may be familiar to fans of How to Get Away with Murder, and he also starred in the 2015 Broadway revival of The King and I and most recently played Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors off Broadway. Matt Rogers can currently be seen in the Showtime series I Love That for You and hosts the Netflix’s dog-grooming competition series Haute Dog. And, of course, there is Margaret Cho–an icon so legendary she needs no introduction.
A lot has been made about how groundbreaking Fire Island is for gay representation and Asian representation. You may have heard a criticism–unfair, I might add–that it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (which requires having at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man). Whatever it is, people are talking about this film. I’m glad, because it’s an important one in the history of gay cinema and the representation of Asian-American—especially gay Asian-American–experiences on-screen. Certainly being part of the cultural conversation is reason enough to watch this Fire Island.
Except–to leave it there does this film an injustice because it misses the fact that beyond anything else, Fire Island is GOOD. In turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-achingly tender, this film really captures what it is to be young (but not so young anymore) and desperately searching for love, for belonging, for acceptance, and for meaning. It reflects the lived experiences of so many gay men, for whom family means something more than a genetic bond and a respite from the constant pressures of a heteronormative society can sometimes only be found in our own little worlds away from the straights.
Don’t be fooled, though; there is something here for everyone. The quest for love and the viciousness of social hierarchies and cliques–not to mention social class–is universal. In this case, it is told through the lens of two gay Asian-American characters, but that doesn’t make it any less relatable for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, or inferior, or as though they are not enough. The painfully honest conversation between Howie and Noah about desirability, class, and racism within the gay community rings true to the gay experience, but it is also a universal feeling to which far too many people will sadly be able to relate.
In that way, Fire Island is not just “a gay film”–though it is unabashedly that. It is also a film which critiques our society more generally, including our obsession with wealth and privilege and the struggles that people who do not fit the narrow parameters of desirability marketed to us by Hollywood have with body image, with self-confidence, and even with romance. It is a timely exploration of the Millennial experience, one where we are delaying marriage and questioning whether old traditions and old institutions serve us as well as they should. And, like Howie and Noah, many Millennials will ultimately come to different conclusions while operating under the same facts.
Ultimately, though, you should watch it because it’s just a damn good rom-com. You’ll cheer for Howie and Charlie to get together. You’ll feel the chemistry and tension and potential for passion between Noah and Will. And you’ll marvel at how Joel Kim Booster made a 200-year-old story feel fresh, relevant, and original.
Fire Island is one of the best gay films released in recent memory. It’s funny, it’s romantic, and it is beautifully written, acted, and directed. It may not win Oscars–comedies rarely do; gay films more rarely still–but it is an instant classic that critics and audiences will be citing for years. Don’t miss it.