After releasing Crush a couple of months ago, which brought a queer coming-of-age love story without the “coming out” trope that most queer romcoms seem to be doing, Hulu and Searchlight Pictures release Fire Island this weekend. A derivative adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the movie tells the story of Noah (Joel Kim Booster), who, every year, goes to Fire Island with his friends. However, this year, Noah’s best friend, Howie (Bowen Yang), starts to fall in love with Charlie (James Scully), complicating his friendship with Noah. But our protagonist begins to feel affection toward Will (Conrad Ricamora), one of Charlie’s friends who keeps his feelings to himself…until Noah comes into his life.
Of course, Fire Island doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of plot. Once all major players are introduced, you know exactly where the movie will be going. It tries to subvert as many romcom tropes as possible, particularly with Will’s character, but any of them didn’t dupe me. Noah and Will’s first interaction is rather cold, but I knew right then and there that they would progressively learn from one another and fall in love by the time the movie ends. Of course, I was right. The same thing happens with Howie and Charlie. It tries to spice up the film’s “will they/won’t they make out” question by having Charlie’s racist ex-boyfriend, Rhys (Michael Graceffa), come into play. Come on, who are you fooling? The guy is such an absolute piece of shit that there’s no way in hell that Charlie is going to go back with him, especially when Howie seems like the perfect match!
So the movie’s plot is relatively standard, but everything else is terrific. The movie contains the most electrifying sexual tension I’ve seen all year in a queer film, particularly when it comes to Noah and Will’s relationship. Both Kim Booster and Ricamora are incredible in their roles, giving much-needed depth to their characters and making their mutual affection fire off all cylinders. Observe their eyes once they look at each other for the first time versus the film’s final shot. There’s a legitimate emotional progression from both characters that you can tell just from how they look at themselves. At first, Will is not fond of Noah or his friends. Still, once he starts to accept himself a bit more and becomes more secure, and sees that Noah loves him for who he is, their friendship begins to blossom into a full-on relationship, and it’s an incredible sight to see as the movie progresses near its end.
Bowen Yang and James Scully’s relationship with Howie and Charlie is also complex, but the camaraderie between the other characters feels more exciting and fun to watch. Joel Kim Booster’s script is sharply written and is surprisingly very funny at times. But the laughs come naturally, particularly when we’re invested in the characters we meet in this movie.
Without such wondrously performed and incredibly written protagonists like the ones we meet in Fire Island, the movie wouldn’t have been what it is. But since we love the characters and seeing the two protagonists fall in love with two incredibly complex men whose insecurities quickly dissipate once they meet Noah and Howie, it’s easy to appreciate the movie and its well-timed jokes and running gags. For example, here’s the line of the year: “I’m so bad with money, I was an early investor in Quibi.” Or how about the gag when Noah comes into Chris’ house and is greeted by a snarky “Can I help you?” Director Andrew Ahn and Kim Booster have lots of fun crafting a close-knit friendship with Noah and Howie’s gang and making us sympathize with every protagonist. Any joke they utter is ten times funnier than it would’ve been with other talents behind and in front of the camera. Everyone is on top of their A-game, and it’s particularly impressive to see a movie that never once fizzles out and continues to push its characters’ development until the end credits are reached.
If you can get past Fire Island’s minor flaws in terms of storytelling, you’ll find one of the most charming and dynamic films of the year. In part, it’s due to the film’s impeccable lead performances from Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, James Scully, and Conrad Ricamora. Their on-screen relationships steam off lots of incredible sexual tension, but it’s also because its protagonists are so richly-written and fun to watch that it’s easy to sympathize with their conflicted feelings. One leaves Fire Island with awe, having spent almost two hours with the great company inside a life-affirming journey that’s bound to resonate with not only the queer community but everyone who decides to press play on the movie this weekend. Don’t miss it.
Fire Island is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.