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Hulu’s ‘Fire Island’ humorous, heartwarming

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While things have certainly gotten better in recent years, there’s still a relative dearth in LGTBQ+ representation in films in general and romantic comedies in particular. Sure, a bit of that could be chalked up to the downtick in rom-coms in general, but still – there are laughs to be mined from all forms of love.

So it’s nice to see when a film comes along that gets it right, offering a humorous look at a different kind of love story – one that proves representative of not only same-sex relationships, but also of Asian-Americans as well.

“Fire Island” – currently streaming on Hulu – is just such a film. Directed by Andrew Ahn from a screenplay by Joel Kim Booster (who also stars), it’s the story of a group of friends who head to the iconic gay party locale Fire Island for their annual week-long sojourn and the connections they make while there, both with others and among themselves.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” – and you better believe Ms. Austen’s influences are ALL OVER this thing in the best ways – it is a delightful story of friendship and love, one that alternates between coarseness and charm, equal parts salty and sweet.

Noah (Joel Kim Booster) is a gay Asian-American man living in New York City; he’s smart, attractive and capable, but has little desire for any kind of long-term relationship, content to hook up and have fun. Every summer, he and his closest pals make a week-long sojourn to legendary gay getaway Fire Island; the crew includes the bookish Max (Torian Miller), aspiring stars and goofballs Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Noah’s best friend Howie (Bowen Yang).

While no one in the group is all that well-to-do, they have the advantage of a longtime friendship with Erin (Margaret Cho), a former restaurant coworker who turned an unfortunate incident into a large financial windfall and bought a small house on the island; she invites them to stay with her every year, serving as a kinda-sorta mother figure to the group.

This year, Noah decides that he is going to eschew his usual sexual pursuits, instead opting to devote his energies to helping Howie – who has never had much of a romantic life – get a little action.

His mission gets off to a strong start when Howie connects with Charlie (James Scully); the two hit it off and there’s a spark. Charlie invites Howie, Noah and the crew to a party at the place he’s sharing with his friends. It’s a far more upscale experience than what Noah and the gang are used to; while Charlie and Howie continue to vibe, the rest are somewhat out of place. Noah finds himself butting heads with Charlie’s friend Will (Conrad Ricamora) – a theme that will continue over the coming days.

And there’s a whole lot more. Partying and pathos, love and lust, acceptance and rejection … it all gets quite complicated, as you might imagine. Unions and betrayals and loads of bad decisions. So many people seeking love and few of them with any real idea of how to figure out what it is that they truly want.

“Fire Island” is a ton of fun. As someone inclined to dig rom-coms, I was always going to enjoy this one – I do so love love, after all – but I don’t know that I understood just how MUCH I was going to enjoy it. It is a beautiful story that is just as much about friendship as it is about anything else; sure, there’s more than enough romance to justify the rom-com designation, but it’s also illustrative of the fact that there are many different kinds of love – all worth celebrating.

It's also INCREDIBLY funny, thanks to the combination of Booster’s strong script and the talented ensemble tasked with delivering it. The jokes careen from highbrow to lowbrow and back again; the film derives equal joy from sophisticated banter and d—k jokes. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but “Fire Island” doesn’t just walk it – this film straight-up dances on it. You don’t often see a clever/coarse combo this successful.

It is here that I should probably confess the Austen-shaped hole in my otherwise fairly robust long-ago English majordom; it has been a LONG time since I read “Pride and Prejudice,” so I alone would be unable to comment on this film’s relationship to that story. However, my lovely bride has more than a passing familiarity with Austen and hence was able to reassure me that yes, my dim memories were accurate and that this film actually does hew quite closely to that beloved rom-com Ur-text (though it does zag pretty significantly in the third act).

This film shines brightest through the friendship at its core, brought to vivid and genuine life by Booster and Yang – real-life friends whose actual relationship translates wonderfully to the action of the film. Booster gives a wonderfully layered performance, striking the right notes in terms of both Noah’s sophistication and his shallowness. It is a smart and nuanced portrayal of a complicated person, one who likely bears no little resemblance to the man himself. Yang is a very real comedic talent, a unique voice given space to shout loudly here. He is funny and charming and weird throughout, displaying plenty of self-awareness without delving too deeply into wink-and-nod territory. The scenes between the two of them are fantastic, with the reality of their relationship lending verisimilitude to the roles they are playing.

The ensemble shines as well, with no weak links in the chain. Cho, Ricamora and Miller are highlights, but the truth is that everyone gets their moment and executes it deftly. It’s a tight cast, with each actor on point, contributing an energy that makes the film a true joy to watch.

We can only hope to see more movies like “Fire Island,” films in which traditionally marginalized groups get a clearer opportunity to share their own experience on screen. This movie is heartfelt and hilarious; you’ll laugh a ton and shed a tear or two, all while having one hell of a good time. And really, why else would you go to Fire Island?

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 06 June 2022 10:59

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