The biggest gift I was ever given in life was being gay. Sure, a significant percentage of the world hates me and thinks I’m going to burn in Hell, and the other part really only shows up for Pride Month (Happy Pride Month by the way), but besides all that totally minor stuff, we’re mostly an evolved species that has more fun, are always funnier than straight people, are usually more successful, and never have to deal with unplanned pregnancies (you’re welcome, Mom). That being said, the bulk of gay “representation” in mainstream films has mostly remained as the comic relief side character that remains as unattractive and unlovable as the main character’s dog, with none of the innocence. Even then, the existence of films focusing on and starring gay characters and actors has mostly remained reserved for tragic love stories with unhappy endings, tragic coming-of-age films where homophobia and/or self-loathing reign supreme, films about the AIDS crisis, or, in recent developments, Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s rare to get anything that gives a look into gay life in a lens that doesn’t feel either completely sanitized (The “We’re just like you” complex), or isn’t just complete trauma porn.
So why the hell did it take so long for something like Fire Island to come along?
Longtime friends Noah (Joel Kim Booster), Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomás Matos) and Max (Torian Miller) are coming together for their annual trip to the famous gay resort town of Fire Island, NY, for a week of relaxation and bonding, as well as party drugs and casual sex at the home of their group matriarch Erin (Margaret Cho). While Howie struggles with issues of self-worth in a place that puts so much value in being fit, white, and rich, Noah agrees to forgo sex with anyone else during their trip until he can find a suitable match for Howie. While this proves simple at first, Howie’s newfound romance with Charlie (James Scully), a doctor and member of a friend group of catty, elitist gays, complicates matters, not least when Noah finds himself butting heads with Charlie’s cold, distant housemate Will (Conrad Ricamora).
While perhaps not sounding like it on paper, Fire Island follows in the footsteps of films such as Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and She’s The Man in retelling literary classics in modern settings with Fire Island retelling that of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While this might seem a bit on the nose given everything I just complained about given the conventionality of so many mainstream gay films, there is such an ease and lightness to Joel Kim Booster’s screenplay that this almost feels like a natural evolution for this love story that is so often told. Except this time, instead of women looking for husband in a sea of wine and grand balls, it’s a group of men looking for more men in a sea of poppers and tea dances. It’s truly beautiful and exactly what I believe Jane Austen was envisioning when writing the source material in 1813.
Even more flattering is that, like mentioned above, the gays are just naturally a funnier species that have used our struggles in society to create comedy leagues ahead of anything anyone heterosexual is doing (I am not hyperbolizing, and I will also not be taking comments on this 100% factual, objective statement). Booster’s screenplay is, quite simply, one of the most clever, charming rom-com scripts to come around in a long damn time, with a sense of pop culture literacy that so many other films of its ilk would assume that the audience is just not smart enough for.
In that, there’s an argument to be made that Fire Island is a film that somewhat ostracizes audiences not entrenched in the world of queer culture, that they might have trouble picking up on some of the niche jokes and references in play, and to that I say…yeah, that’s the point. For so long, queer people have had to remain the butts of the jokes of mainstream films and comedians, so for a film like Fire Island not only to exist, but to be so unapologetically queer, not in the fact that much of the film revolves around gay sex, but in that we as queer audience members aren’t subjected to the previously mentioned “We’re just like you” complex that so many other queer films like to put forth as some sort of objective truth. The truth is, we’re not always like you; we have our own culture, built from our shared experiences, and way of speaking and interacting with one another that straight people might find hard to keep up with sometimes, and that’s what Fire Island celebrates in a way I haven’t seen a studio film do so effortlessly before.
Fire Island is also unafraid to confront the issues that we have within the gay community, particularly those of racism and body shaming among the “mainstream” parts within our subculture. While we’d all love to think we’re all accepting and loving of one another by proxy of experience, the truth is that we have as much discrimination within our community as the outside world does. Having a film so blatantly show audiences that much of the gay community exists as a way to uphold white supremacy and toxic masculinity (despite the fact we’re all queens here) felt like a breath of fresh air to the often-idealized perceptions we can have in our own bubbles. Perhaps we are a little like you in that gay people can be, and will be, trash like the rest of y’all also can be.
And that’s really what Fire Island feels like as a whole: a breath of fresh air. It’s a wonderfully funny and irreverent twist on the rom-com that both plays into comfortable clichés while is also unafraid to hit each joke with a laser-focused precision that only someone with the comedic literacy of Booster could achieve. It’s unafraid to take as many swings at the more problematic parts of queer culture while simultaneously celebrating the vast majority of wonderful aspects that comes with queer bonding. It’s that rare movie where I genuinely felt gayer watching it, and for a film that has the goals of Fire Island, I can’t imagine that being much more of a compliment.
Available to stream on Hulu June 3rd, 2022.
For more information, head to Searchlight Picture’s official Fire Island webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.