Fire Island immediately informs the audience that it is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Noah (Joel Kim Booster) recites the first line of Pride and Prejudice in a voiceover and even displays a copy of the book on his nightstand.
Fire Island roughly follows the pattern of this oft-adapted source material, focusing on the fun-loving and fiercely independent Noah (mimicking Elizabeth Bennet’s shrewdness and audacity) as he travels with his friends to Fire Island, the country’s premier gay hub.
The two engage in a fascinating love-hate, will-they-or-won’t-they romance. Meanwhile, Noah’s best buddy Howie (Bowen Yang) falls in love with Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley (James Scully): Charlie (James Scully).
Obviously, Fire Island has an interesting twist. Andrew Ahn, the film’s director, has converted a story steeped in heteronormative norms and ideals into a narrative about the LGBT experience.
Fire Island Is Present-Day Jane Austen Done Right (And Gay)
The film focuses on the sexualities of its characters, from debates about the specific battle of LGBT Asian invisibility to refreshingly honest chats about the smallest details of their sex lives.
Pride and Prejudice is a good pattern for this particular plot; it offers the basis for a variety of relationship dynamics, and its classic form necessitates that the film questions the novel’s typical rom-com tropes.
Why is the only appropriate conclusion to a romance a dramatic, exaggerated proclamation of love? Why are non-monogamy tastes and a fear of commitment so frequently looked down upon?
Noah values his independence, whereas Howie longs for a true fairytale conclusion. Noah fights tenaciously against what Howie calls a “pre-9/11 run through an airport.”
He feels that these types of gestures do not exist in real life and that we are better off without them; that the pedestal society places them on precludes individuals who seek out unconventional partnerships.
When Howie falls in love with Charlie, one cannot help but wonder how this will all play out. On the one hand, we want Howie to have a happy ending, but on the other, wouldn’t it contradict the tenets of Fire Island, as advocated by the show’s creator and star, Booster?
The original material ultimately works against Ahn, who succumbs to the tale patterns that his protagonist initially critiques. Even while Noah intends to help dispel the perception that the only “proper” way to approach a relationship is with conventional, romantic-comedy-style gestures, he ends up reinforcing the concept.
This, in turn, confuses and even contradicts what made Fire Island an original reading of Pride and Prejudice, to begin with. The novel’s awkward expositional voiceover also does the film a disservice.
The extensive use of voiceover can only be excused as an homage to Jane Austen’s narration-heavy style, but it comes across as a presumption that the viewer isn’t paying attention, considering the plot’s simplicity.
Nonetheless, Fire Island is, on the whole, incredibly well-made. Noah is an interesting protagonist who walks a fine line between realizing the harsh beauty standards expected of gay Asian men and complying with those expectations.
Despite Booster’s strong performance, Yang steals the show. Booster’s confidence and uncertainty are shown with ease and surprise, but despite this, Yang steals the show.
Yang, a former cast member of Saturday Night Live, is as hilarious as heck, yet he portrays Howie with such exquisite tenderness that it is impossible not to sympathize with his idealistic romantic desires.
The unsurprising scene-stealer who explodes into every room with a good mix of shenanigans and astonishment is Margaret Cho as the boys’ house-mom figure.
Will is at once appealing and unlikeable, cold-blooded, and empathetic. This is Ricamora’s magnificent reimagining of the legendary Darcy character.
Fire Island is a breezy treat, bolstered by witty acting and lush cinematography that accentuates the shimmering, ethereal, and otherworldly essence of Fire Island through saturated neon lighting and bright outdoor hours. This demonstrates that revising Austen’s works is not an obsolete habit.
Even though Ahn would have served his film better by not feeling the need to adhere so closely to the original material, Fire Island is a triumphant examination of how pervasive classic stories can be and what transplanting them to a new place does to them.
In this instance, transference provides us with lessons in self-acceptance, open-mindedness, and the immeasurable worth of friendship and family.
It is impossible to anticipate when something will survive the test of time, but I am convinced that Fire Island will join Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary in the Austenian pantheon.