Fire Island Review: Read Me to Filth, Please!

Andrew Anh and Joel Kim Booster kick off summer just right

Is there anything sexier than Mr. Darcy in the rain? A shirtless Mr. Darcy in the rain, perhaps, as Fire Island puts the pride in Pride & Prejudice. This gay reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic novel should make audiences of all inclinations swoon. (Okay, maybe not straight guys.) Directed by Andrew Anh (Driveways) and written by star Joel Kim Booster, Fire Island finds in the complicated dynamics of the queer community the same tensions of class and social status that fuel Austen’s romance.

The film smartly taps into Austen’s brainwave when it sets Noah (Booster) and his boys down in the raging-boner land of Fire Island. The gay oasis proves a hotbed for romance and witty repartee. The men are hot but the dialogue is hotter. Fire Island is a smartly written observation about love in the 21st century.

The film surprises quickly when the trip to Fire Island suggests a raunchy affair. Noah zips off to meet the boys while musing about polyamory in Austenian narration. He grabs his undies and awkwardly smiles at the one-night stand he’s leaving behind. Boys will be boys.

When he meets up with his BFF Howie (Bowen Yang), and their friends Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomás Matos), and Max (Torian Miller), hormones rage as half the dudes aboard the ferry rip their shirts off, Noah included. Howie quickly opines that Noah has succumbed to toxic gay stereotyping. Noah’s bulbous pecs and chiselled abs squeal that he’s far better at committing to a workout routine than to boyfriends. But Howie, the Jane to Noah’s Lizzie, mopes that nobody loves boring-old-monogamous him. Noah therefore pledges to abstain from sex on Fire Island until Howie gets his Mr. Fitzwilliam.

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Witty over Raunchy

Once the guys land on Fire Island, though, Booster’s screenplay favours Jane Austen jocularity over American Pie debauchery. Sure, there are the obligatory underwear parties, booze-fuelled hook-ups, a dark room, and a quick walk through a gangbang or two, but Fire Island pines for love, not lust. The film navigates the social circles that even marginalized groups create for themselves in a dance of power and status. Anh’s film observes how even the gay community stratifies notions of masculinity and femininity. The dating app caveat “No fats, no femmes, no Asians,” for example, appears within minutes.

Instead, Fire Island explores the sense of “community” within a demographic frequently paired with the term. As the friends navigate an orgy of Abercrombie & Fitch models, Fire Island observes how dynamics of heteronormativity pervade even gay culture. This remains a world where muscular white men position themselves as the ideal. The film’s refreshing casting, moreover, ensures that the ensemble is as inclusive as it is entertaining. From the flamboyantly fabulous Tomás Matos, who steals much of the group’s screentime, to Margaret Cho as the sassy house momma to a fun cameo by Drag Race superstar Peppermint, Fire Island lets gays of all stripes see themselves onscreen. The film also has fun by making men who uphold conventional notions of masculinity as an ideal be the butt of many jokes as Noah and the gang crash into a pack of surfer dude-bros and gym rats.

Joel Kim Booster in Fire Island | Photo by Jeong Park. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Lizzie Meets Darcy

However, it’s here that Noah meets his Mr. Darcy. After setting Howie up with the dashing Charlie (James Scully), Noah generates enough sexual tension to pressure cook a potato with Charlie’s friend, Will (Conrad Ricamora). The two men don’t have an instant spark, though. Rather, Will follows Noah with a brooding and watchful eye. Noah, meanwhile, is suspect about this relatively square beefcake who barely cracks a small.

Anh and Booster keep the adaptation fast and loose, though. Austen fans will easily discern Fire Island’s intersections with Pride & Prejudice, but this is also a firmly contemporary tale. An epic playlist of poppy party anthems, ranging from Kim Petras’ “Heart to Break” to a finale that soars with the fist-pumping greatness of Donna Summers’ “Last Dance,” Fire Island delivers all the feels. It’s also just a really good time. This is the party that we’ve been missing the last two years.

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Reading Is Sexy

A lot the fun lands on Booster’s shoulders. He gives a star-making performance that brings the wit, emotional intelligence, and sauciness for the role. The actor draws upon his chops as a stand-up comic to deliver the barbed comedic timing of an Austen film. Serving the tea and throwing shade wherever he can on this sunny island, Noah sharply guards himself through humour.

Then—but, oh, then—Will catches Noah reading. Fire Island is, after all, an Austen movie, so leave it to the power of prose to make sparks fly. Will’s interest (and hopefully more) is piqued when he discovers Noah’s well-worn copy of Alice Munro’s Runaway. He picks up the novel, quizzically turned-on after judging the book by its cover. When everyone else on Fire Island is putting their drinks up, dropping molly, or plotting to get laid, these guys just want to read.

As Noah and Will debate Munro’s portrayal of love, and what elements are the essence of the Canadian short story scribe, Fire Island strikes the heart like Cupid’s arrow. Drawing upon the power of witty wordplay, come-hither glance, and heaving bosoms, Fire Island evolves into a portrait of what it means to be authentic and find love on one’s own terms. When the film features a brief montage of the men curling up on the beach, enjoying their books, and soaking up the sun, it features one of the sexiest scenes ever put to film. Forget Mr. Darcy in the rain—there’s no sight like two hot men reading. The library is officially open, folks.

 

Fire Island debuts on Hulu and Disney+ on June 3 and screens at Inside Out that day.

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