Directed by: Andrew Ahn
Premise: Riffing on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a group of gay friends travel to Fire Island for a week of debauched partying. Two members of this group (Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang) make romantic connections that might lead to meaningful relationships.
What Works: The extent to which Fire Island succeeds is largely due to the performances by Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang. The film is a loose adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Booster’s character is the equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s novel while Yang’s role is a variation on Jane Bennet. Booster’s character wants his friend to have a good time and pushes Yang’s character toward a sexual hookup. But Yang wants more than just sex and he has some poignant moments reflecting on loneliness and the yearning for connection. Also notable is Conrad Ricamora as the equivalent of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Ricamora possesses a shiftiness that could be arrogance or insecurity and his relationship with Booster’s character has a few authentic moments.
What Doesn’t: In the past few decades the romantic comedy genre has adopted the stereotype of the gay sidekick, a comic relief character who exists to deliver exposition and be a punchline. Nearly all the characters of Fire Island are gay men and instead of refuting the romcom stereotype with a variety of nuanced characters the filmmakers lean into a very narrow conception of gay men. Nearly everyone are minor variations of the same stereotype: effeminate, sex-crazed, tacky, superficial, and stupid with impossibly well-defined abs. If these characters appeared in an otherwise straight film they would be rightly criticized as regressive and insulting caricatures. These people don’t have any depth. Their sexual orientation is the totality of their identity. The picture adds some nuance in its second half with a couple of characters questioning the hedonistic life but the filmmakers don’t do anything challenging or interesting with that. In a particularly ill-advised plot turn, one of the characters discovers his sexual activity has been surreptitiously recorded and leaked to the internet. This is a serious issue that the filmmakers casually brush over. Fire Island is a romantic comedy and the novelty of a gay romcom does not obfuscate the filmmaker’s adherence to formula nor does it excuse Fire Island’s lack of imagination. The film gets by on its earnest sweetness and a bit of self-awareness but this is a shallow movie.
DVD extras: On Hulu.
Bottom Line: Fire Island channels Pride and Prejudice while discarding with most of the depth and insight of Jane Austen’s novel. This movie is a parade of gay stereotypes and romantic comedy cliches.
Episode: #905 (June 12, 2022)