“Fire Island” initially made me feel awkward for good reasons. Here is a little but funny and exuberant gay romance comedy film which is also quite frank and proud about the irrepressible homosexuality of many of its main characters, and, as your average nerdy gay dude, I will not deny that I flinched more than once during its 20 minutes even though I came to embrace its unapologetically flamboyant aspects with some smile in the end.
The main background of the movie is Fire Island, the famous gay village off the South Shore of Long Island. As another summer starts, a young Asian American gay man named Noah (Joel Kim Booster) is certainly looking forward to having lots of fun there along with his several close friends including Howie (Bowen Yang) during next several days, and we soon see them and many other gay people becoming quite excited as the ship carrying them eventually arrives at Fire Island.
However, their holiday week of this year turns out to be quite bittersweet. For several years, they could always stay at a big house owned by a middle-aged lesbian named Erin (Margaret Cho), and Erin has been more or less than a saucy mother figure for the boys, but, alas, she now has to sell her house due to her growing financial difficulty. Discerning that this year may be the last time when he and his friends can really enjoy themselves together, Noah becomes all the more determined to make Howie matched with someone good enough for him, and Howie reluctantly goes along with that although he is not that willing to be more active about romance for understandable reasons.
When Noah and his friends happen to be invited to a certain big house in Fire Island on their first day, things seem to be going pretty well for all them. While enjoying looking around all those attractive (and shirtless) guys, they also have some fun with free booze, and Howie happens to get involved with a nice handsome dude named Charlie (James Scully) during that wild night, though he suffers a lot from a severe hangover in the next morning.
As watching Howie and Charlie getting closer to each other, Noah is ready to encourage their possible romance as much as he can, but then he comes to face the opposing influence from Will (Conrad Ricamora), a taciturn lawyer who happens to be one of Charlie’s close friends. As he subsequently clashes more with Will, Noah comes to dislike Will more than before, but, to his bafflement, he also finds himself gradually attracted to Will, and, what do you know, it seems that Will also likes Noah more than he admits on the surface.
Now many of you will be surely reminded of Jane Austen’s immortal classic novel “Pride and Prejudice”, and the movie does not hide its source of inspiration at all as reflected by its opening scene. Although many of its main characters often do not wear clothes much compared to those delightfully restrained characters of Austen’s novel, the movie is still as witty, sharp, and, sophisticated as we can expect from a good variation of “Pride and Prejudice”, and its several funniest moments remind us that we human beings are still clumsy about emotions even when we are nakedly honest in terms of attitude and appearance.
Above all, you may see yourself from its main characters if you are one of its target audiences. Yes, many of them are more or less than archetypes, but most of them are imbued with the palpable sense of life and personality, and I wish Joel Kim Booster’s screenplay provided a bit more space for several substantial supporting characters including Max (Torian Miller), who feels like your typical token black supporting character as often merely occupying his small space in the background.
I guess Booster decided to stick to what he knows best as an Asian American gay man from the start, and, as far as I can see, he succeeds in that aspect more than once. Several key scenes between his character and Howie ring true as balanced well between comedy and drama, and, as a gay man who has been quite uncertain about any opportunity for good relationship in his life, I was particularly touched by when Howie comes to show more of his thoughts and feelings later in the story. Usually looking as stiff and reserved as Will on the surface, I have also been as insecure and desperate as Howie due to approaching to 40 day by day, and I can only hope that there is still a chance for me despite many obstacles including the prevalent social bias against sexual minority people in the South Korean society.
As they function as the emotional center of the film, Booster and his co-star Bowen Yang, who has been mainly known for his contributions to “Saturday Night Live”, are also supported well by a number of various talented performers. While Conrad Ricamora and James Scully dutifully occupy the opposite position, Matt Rogers, Tomás Matos, Torian Miller, and Margaret Cho are also solid on the whole, and Cho enjoyably steals every second of her appearance.
“Fire Island” is the third feature film of Andrew Ahn, one of the recent notable Korean American filmmakers who drew my attention via his debut feature film “Spa Night” (2016). Compared to the hauntingly somber qualities of “Spa Night” and his next film “Driveways” (2019), the movie is certainly an unexpected change of direction, and it surely demonstrates another side of his considerable talent. Come to think of it, I should thank him for showing me a bit of Fire Island, but, because I usually prefer peace to fun, I would rather visit there during a less crowded season. Can I go there on a cold and quiet winter day without any humiliation, I wonder?