Andrew Ahn’s film Fire Island (2022), written by Joel Kim Booster, thoughtfully addresses many themes – the search for love and companionship, the tension between monogamy and polyamory, loneliness, deception, body shaming and violation of consent.
Still from the movie Fire Island
If you enjoyed watching Joel Kim Booster’s stand-up comedy special Psychosexual (2022), you might enjoy his performance in the film fire island (2022) which is currently streaming on Hotstar. Booster also wrote the screenplay based on Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813). The setting, however, is not the rural England of the 19e century. It is a contemporary American romantic comedy featuring homosexuals vacationing on Fire Island in New York State.
The historical significance of Fire Island was documented by Esther Newton in a book titled Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town. It was first published by Beacon Press in 1993. Duke University Press published a revised edition with a new preface in 2014. More recently, Jack Parlett wrote Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise (2022) published by Hanover Square Press.
Knowing the story will certainly add to your appreciation of the film, but it works on its own. That’s partly because of director Andrew Ahn, who is good at telling gripping stories with gay protagonists. His film fraud (2012) revolves around a Korean-American gay man who attends his nephew’s first birthday party, accompanied by his partner and their dog. Ahn also directed the film Spa evening (2016), which explores the life of a gay Korean-American teenager who works at a spa in Los Angeles to financially support his parents.
Booster plays Noah, a character based on Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. Bowen Yang plays Howie, a character based on Jane Bennet. While Elizabeth and Jane are sisters in the conventional sense of the term, Noah and Howie are sisters in the sense that homosexuals use that term. They consider themselves as a family. They visit Fire Island every year as part of a group of gay men hosted by their lesbian “mother of house” Erin – a character based on Mrs. Bennet and played by Margaret Cho. Conrad Ricamora plays Will, based on Fitzwilliam Darcy.
You don’t need to have read Austen to follow Ahn’s plot fire island. This film thoughtfully addresses many themes – the search for love and companionship, the tension between monogamy and polyamory, loneliness, deception, body shaming and much more. The discussion around consent at gay parties has been handled with maturity. Recording people having sex, without their permission, is neither funny nor legal. It is also an explicit violation of someone’s trust at a time when they are most vulnerable.
Booster and Ricamora have amazing chemistry, as does Booster and Yang. Cho shines despite the limited screen time given to her in a film full of men. It would be unfair to say that they were all cast solely because of their sexual orientation. They fit the roles perfectly. James Scully plays Charlie, Howie’s love interest, but there’s not much to say about him.
After Gurinder Chadha Marriage and prejudice (2004) which had Indian actors like Aishwarya Rai, Nadira Babbar, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews, Indira Varma, Namrata Shirodkar and Sonali Kulkarni, it is inspiring to see many actors of Asian descent in Ahn’s adaptation.
Booster was born in South Korea and adopted by a white American couple as a baby. Yang is Chinese-American. He was born to Chinese parents who emigrated to Australia. Cho was born into a Korean family in California in the United States. Ricamora’s father is of Filipino descent while her mother is half German and half Irish. This casting is also significant in terms of the statement it makes about racism in Hollywood and in LGBTQ communities. Asian actors are losing roles because they are not linked enough. In the dating scene, LGBTQ Asians are either dismissed as undesirable or fetishized for being foreign.
I wonder how Austen would have reacted to her gay adaptation of her classic but I guess it doesn’t matter because she’s dead and gone. The novel has tickled the imagination of many storytellers in different parts of the world. Each adaptation, spin-off, parody or narrative further solidifies this novel’s unique position in the canon of English literature.
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based journalist.
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