VOD film review: Fire Island
James R | On 26, Jun 2022
Director: Andrew Ahn
Cast: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Margaret Cho
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” So begins Fire Island, Andrew Ahn’s vibrant rom-com, before adding: “No offence to my girl Jane, but that sounds like some hetero nonsense to me!”
The voice belongs to Noah (Joel Kim Booster), a single Asian-American guy who’s about to head off on his annual holiday to the titular queer hotspot – an island just off the coast of Long Island. He’s joined by his regular group of friends, including Keegan (Tomás Matos), Luke (Matt Rogers) and Max (Torian Miller) and his best friend, Howie (Bowen Yang). Together, they shack up at the house of Erin (Margaret Cho), their lesbian friend who gives them a base for the holiday and plays mother hen to them all, cementing them as a family unit.
It’s that kind of detail that makes Fire Island a warm, refreshing watch, as it hits back not only at the conventional narratives that have long shaped romantic comedies but also undoes some of the stereotypes of onscreen depictions of homosexuality, as it highlights the importance of platonic friendships and support.
The latter is nonetheless a divisive topic in the former, as Noah and Howie are at very different points in their dating lives. Noah is exercising hard to maintain a certain appearance and is confidently moving from one partner to the next, while Howie is a shy sort who is happy cosying up with a rom-com and dreaming of movie scenarios to unfold in real life. Noah decides that he’ll help Howie and promptly sets him up with Charlie (James Scully), a well-off doctor – but that also brings Noah into contact with Charlie’s friend, Will (Conrad Ricamora), a lawyer who tells Charlie that Noah isn’t “hot enough to be that annoying”.
So far, so Pride and Prejudice, and what unfolds is a smart reworking of Jane Austen’s book, right down an argument and a kiss in the rain that recalls Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation. It’s a tale of mistaken first impressions and reconciling differences and learning not to judge other people on presumptions, anchored by Joel Kim Booster and Conrad Ricamora’s performances, which gradually thaw from their respective positions of withdrawn awkwardness.
It’s testament to James Scully’s charming performance and Bowen Yang’s ability to juggle sympathy with comic timing that, if anything, you want to follow their romance more than the Lizzie-Darcy dynamics of Noah and Will. But that’s also because it taps into the wider themes and nuances of Joel Kim Booster’s script, which explores the way that films can set unrealistic expectations of romance across all sexualities, as well as specifically observing the toxic way that racism and body-positivity can simmer under the surface of the queer dating scene. (“No fats, no femmes, no Asians,” one of the group read from a dating app early on.)
All that, combined with the Asian-American leads and lack of coming-out narratives, make Fire Island a welcome cousin of similarly glossy mainstream gay rom-coms Love Simon, Single All the Way and Happiest Season. Director Andrew Ahn, meanwhile, keeps the tone light, breezy and accessible, balancing humour and heart with an encouraging celebration of friendship, love and healthy role models.