Joel Kim Booster wrote and stars in fire island, a Pride and Prejudice story in the form of a romantic comedy about a group of friends and their annual week-long vacation to Fire Island Pines. Noah (Booster), Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller) make the pilgrimage each year to what has been known as the best place for LGBT beachgoers since the 1920s. The friends met while working at a restaurant in Brooklyn and are staying at the island home of Erin (Margaret Cho), who also worked at the restaurant. Although they no longer work together or see each other as often as they would like, the annual trip to Fire Island is their time to reconnect, party, and enjoy each other’s company.
Erin’s revelation that she’s not doing well financially and will have to sell the house puts a damper on the festivities this year. It’s heartbreaking for the band because Erin was a mother figure to them and her home was a safe place they knew they could count on. It’s the end of an era and they decide to spend their last week at the beach making memories. Noah agrees to be Howie’s wingman for the week after Noah catches Charlie (James Scully) checking on Howie. Noah’s group and Charlie’s group become entangled and the relaxing vacation turns more dramatic than either of them expected.
The problem with fire island is that it has lost the essence of a Jane Austen novel. All of Austen’s works are critiques of the society in which she lived. Whether she focused on marriage, social class, politics, religion, or a host of similar themes, Austen’s books were more than just romantic stories. fire island tries to follow in his footsteps and hints at the racism and body shaming prevalent in the gay male community, but there’s no depth to any of the conversations. This is disappointing, as Austen’s works have proven adaptable to many different times and groups of people. Pride and Prejudice is the perfect canvas for this story, but the film failed to reach the heights of the original work.
Noah, unfortunately, lacks the essence of a Jane Austen heroine. For most of the film, he is insufferable and rude to his so-called friends. These friends are so close that they consider each other family, but there is no feeling of warmth between them. They’re supposed to be representative of the Bennett sisters, but there’s no love to be seen and their bickering seems stilted and unnatural. Their friendship is supposed to be the glue that holds the movie together, but it feels like they all just met an hour and a half ago.
Noah and Will are fire islandIt’s Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Sure, Noah and Will start out disliking each other, but their bickering is uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the lack of chemistry between the actors, or the fact that their romantic relationship is suddenly shown in edits. Either way, audiences are deprived of the quintessential experience of a Jane Austen adaptation. There’s no swoon-worthy desire on sunny beaches or neon nightclubs. Instead, the movie feels more like a first draft. There are many interesting concepts and characters in play, but there is still work to be done before the script is complete.
The film ends abruptly and the fate of Erin’s character remains unknown. Even though the movie tries to say she’s the mother figure of the group, she’s only really seen as relevant because she owns the house on the island. Noah and his friends assure her that they love her, not the house, but it’s hard to believe when she’s left out of most of the movie. However, the implication that Erin’s character once had a similar group of friends who met for a rambunctious vacation in Cherry Grove (lesbian Fire Island) makes me desperate for a prequel.
There’s something heartwarming about seeing an LGBT movie with no coming-out story and a grand rom-com finale. The choice to include Victorian string music for a few moments in the score was great and should have been carried throughout the film. In the same way, it’s exciting when period pieces use modern music, subverting this concept and marking only fire island with Austen-era orchestrations would have been delightful. Noah contributes a running narrative throughout the film that feels overly simplistic. It was lovely at first to hear the famous opening lines of Pride and Prejudice coming from Noah, but it’s a charm that quickly wears off. Storytelling is used as a way to tell the audience how they feel instead of allowing them to see it for themselves.
Given the proximity of their release dates, their presence on the same streaming service, and their common desire to expand the genre of LGBT films, it is difficult not to compare To crush and fire island. Both aim to give queer people a fun, airy, romantic comedy where a happy ending is guaranteed. While both can be criticized for being too cliche, these films showing unapologetic queer joy are always radical. fire island just doesn’t stick on landing.