It is a universally recognized truth that the works of Jane Austen – much like those of William Shakespeare – prove their durability due to the frequency with which their stories have been adapted to the modern world. From the teen romantic comedy translation of Emma in cluelessin the mind of Whit Stillman mansfield park variation Metropolitanto multiculturalism by Gurinder Chadha Marriage and prejudice, it is clear that one does not have to stick to the size of the empire and the mores of the Regency era for Austen’s comedies of manners to be effective. Then as Fire Island appears, he answers an imperious question: how is it that no one up to now has thought to ask: “What if Pride and Prejudicebut gay?
There’s a bit more going on in this adaptation from director Andrew Ahn and screenwriter Joel Kim Booster, including exploring the double isolation of being gay and Asian, than just swapping out female characters for more male characters. But while the filmmakers have their own stories to tell, in doing so they explain why Jane Austen’s ease with relationship dynamics continues to translate over 200 years later.
Booster also stars as Noah, the de facto Elizabeth Bennet in this storyline, as he prepares to join four of his closest friends – Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller) – for their annual summer getaway with their friend Erin (Margaret Cho) at the longtime gay sanctuary of Fire Island. Noah has made it his mission to hook up the perpetually single Howie, and a sweet guy named Charlie (James Scully) seems like a great prospect. Next comes our super-serious Mr. Darcy, Charlie Will’s (Conrad Ricamora) friend, who becomes as instantly infuriating to Noah in his apparent elitism as he will eventually become attractive.
Various other character counterparts also emerge, naturally, including the horny but potentially ruinous comrade (Zane Phillips) filling the role of Mr. Wickham, and Erin’s financially precarious state makes for an effective approximation of class dynamics at the moment. work in Pride and Prejudice. One of the most effective twists, however, is turning Noah and his friends into replacements for sisters Bennet and Erin as a surrogate mother. It’s a nice way to highlight how LGBTQ people often find themselves more connected to families of their choice than to their biological families, but still with the same emotional complications, petty jealousies, and well-meaning interference.
These relationships emerge naturally but entertainingly from the performances, which prove to be quite solid across the board. It’s understandable that Booster gave himself the lead role, but he’s sometimes the weakest link in the cast, especially when trying to convey his shifting feelings for Will. Ricamora, on the other hand, is a fantastic Darcy-come of late, capturing all of the character’s emotional constipation and earnest moralism, while remaining likable when it matters. The biggest reveal might be SNL standout Yang, whose showcase roles to date have mostly required him to be the sassy slinger of one-liners. Here, he’s funny while being extremely vulnerable, when it would have been just as easy to watch him kill him as the more acidic Noah.
Without surprise, Fire Island is considerably more, shall we say, “mature” in content than a genteel, period version of Pride and Prejudice; Austen probably never imagined a scenario where all the Bennet girls would gather a pile of drugs on the table to choose their favorite for a night of debauchery, or a “darkroom” for anonymous sex. Booster’s script mixes obvious crowd-pleasing elements like a karaoke performance of Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” with more out-of-left-field jokes – Erin blames her lost fortune as “one of the early investors in Quibi” – so it ends up a bit uneven as a comedy.
As a story of the search for love, however, it’s a pretty disarming success, as it’s all about finding love from a chosen family, finding romantic love, and find the ability to love yourself. Jane Austen might have seen happy endings mostly like everyone getting married, but Fire Island takes a broader view, while respecting the source of the story to understand this desire for connection, regardless of the obstacles that may arise.