Fire Island review: Pride and Prejudice goes to the Pines in a lively gay update

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Fire Island review: Pride and Prejudice goes to the Pines in a lively gay update
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The generous work of Jane Austen seems to have endless room for adaptations, her 200-year-old stories applied like a master key to everything from marauding zombies to as-if teens. Still, even she could not have had the bandwidth to foresee the queer Pride and Prejudice fantasia of Fire Island (on Hulu June 3), a classic tale of love and class-consciousness dragged kiki-ing and screaming into the contemporary realm of Britney karaoke and buttless bikini briefs.

Actor-comedian Joel Kim Booster wrote the script and stars as Noah, a broke thirtysomething nurse with an Adonis body, a socially anxious best friend (Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang), and a precious week to spend in a summer share on a legendary strip of land off the coast of Long Island thanks to an old coworker, a loopy lesbian named Erin (Margaret Cho). The house fills up fast with their giddy crew, and so does the drama: There's intrigue with a dreamboat doctor for Yang's Howie, and a terse, handsome lawyer (How to Get Away with Murder's Conrad Ricamora) Noah can't seem to stop sparring with or running into on the docks. (He's called Will, not Mr. Darcy, but you know where this is headed.)

Fire Island
Fire Island

Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures

The mere fact of a mainstream romantic comedy centered on gay characters of color — underwritten by Disney, no less — is still a little bit extraordinary in 2022, though the movie also feels notable for not subduing or soft-peddling its voice for the hetero normies who may or may not tune in, presuming by default to be catered to. Fire's aim is true, though its tone tends to veer wildly, ricocheting from cutting AbFab wit to the kind of swoony soft-focus tropes Bridgerton wouldn't shake a powdered wig at. Tender teachable moments about racism or depression or midlife ennui ride alongside indie-pop needle drops and broad, breezy punchlines about tea-dance orgies and ketamine.

In that context, judging Fire Island too harshly as a film feels a little bit beside the point: Director Andrew Ahn (who helmed the microbudget coming-out story Spa Night and the lovely, low-key indie Driveways) works like a loose ringmaster here, aiming mostly for function and fizz. There's a sitcom-ish tilt to it all that seems scaled for small-screen viewing (albeit with an 18+ parental lock), and the performances range from poignant to blithely cartoonish, often within a single scene. But when the actors and the storyline find their rhythm — Yang sliding off a giant deck chair in an MDMA haze like a human Slinky; Ricamora stiffly submitting himself to a dance-off, a flailing robot in deck shorts — it's almost impossible not to be charmed. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a very small swimsuit must be in want of a rom-com to call his own; Fire Island sets the stage, messy and sweet, and lets its freak flag fly. Grade: B

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