CAST: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, Margaret Cho, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomás Matos, Torian Miller, Nick Adams, Zane Phillips, Michael Graceffa, Aidan Wharton, Peter Smith, Bradley Gibson
RUNNING TIME: 105 mins
BASICALLY…: A pair of best friends (Booster and Yang) head to a gay-friendly resort for fun and romance…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Pride and Prejudice has been adapted for film many times over the years, either as straightforward historical dramas or modern rom-coms (and also Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but as far as I know there have been, up until now, zero adaptations that have transformed Jane Austen’s classic novel of romance and courtship into an all-gay bonanza with six-packs and Speedos replacing all the corsets and dresses.
That is, of course, the appeal of Fire Island, a winning contemporary version of the timeless story released to coincide with Pride Month, and features all the sparkling romance and charming wit of Austen’s book with an extra dose of uncynical fabulousness.
The film, directed by Andrew Ahn, is written by Joel Kim Booster, who also stars as Noah – the Elizabeth Bennett of this story – as he ventures with his friends, including lifelong bestie Howie (SNL’s Bowen Yang), to the gay-friendly resort of Fire Island, described via Noah’s narration as “the gay Disney World”, for their annual week away at the holiday home of their lesbian friend Erin (Margaret Cho). Upon arrival, they learn that financial troubles have led Erin to put the house on the market, meaning that not only is this going to be their last summer together, but that they have one last chance to hook up with some of the attractive men also residing on the island. Noah, a commitment-phobe who favours meaningless entanglements over full-rom monogamy, tries to pair the virginal Howie with a handsome doctor named Charlie (James Scully), but things become complicated when Noah crosses paths with Charlie’s sullen and reserved friend Will (Conrad Ricamora) – who is, of course, the Mr. Darcy to Noah’s Elizabeth.
It isn’t often that such a well-renowned piece of literature such as Pride and Prejudice is reshaped from an LGBTQ+ perspective, but as it turns out it’s all the update such a story really needs. Booster, as both writer and lead actor, captures the charm and wit of both Austen’s novel and her iconic protagonist, neatly establishing most of the characters and scenarios as believable renditions of the author’s ensemble without any of them simply coming across as conventional, effeminate gay stereotypes. The writer, along with director Ahn, also doesn’t shy away from the ravenous sexual imagery that can only come from an environment such as this; you do straight up see men pounding away at other men at one point, and performing oral sex on each other at another point. It is a film that is entirely aware of its own identity, and flaunts it without a single care in the world, while also keeping in the relatively romantic spirit that Jane Austen originally wrote about (albeit, with a lot more gay sex than she probably had in mind).
The movie can also be very funny, mostly from the talented cast of actors who have a strong knack for comedic delivery and straight-faced charisma. Booster carries the movie with strong chemistry with his on-screen makeshift family members, including the comedically gifted Bowen Yang who (in his first major film role since breaking out on SNL) really brings a lot of warmth and humanity to his lovelorn character. The writer/actor also has fun acting opposite Conrad Ricamora who, ironically for a gay-themed romance, makes for a compelling straight-man; the two share a believable chemistry that blossoms naturally as their tumultuous relationship moves forward, as was the case for the original Elizabeth and Darcy dynamic. There are lots of laughs to be had from the sheer awkwardness these characters encounter between each other, potential love rivals, and in the odd embarrassing situation. It has a good heart to it as well, putting forth the familial bond shared between these characters which gives all of them a connective dynamic that makes for some genuinely sweet moments, and has you rooting for most of the romantic entanglements that our heroes all manage to wind up in somehow.
There aren’t any prizes for guessing how it’s all going to end, especially if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice many a time before watching this new version, but Fire Island is an entertaining romantic-comedy that provides a solid update of a classic story without sacrificing its integrity or classiness. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you or some of your close friends are eagerly celebrating Pride Month in all its glory, and are looking for something that adds a special LGBTQ+ touch to a familiar, but still timeless, piece of writing.
Hopefully, it will also pave the way for more gay-friendly Austen adaptations; Mansfield Park but set in a bathhouse, anyone?
SO, TO SUM UP…
Fire Island is a charming contemporary update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an added LGBTQ+ friendly twist, that features some fun performances and sweet romantic pairings that will have you rooting for the central relationships as well as the ultimate power of romance.