It’s a The universally recognized truth that Noah (Joel Kim Booster) and his circle of friends, in possession of a magnificent home on Fire Island, regard their annual week together in the summertime hotspot of New York as something sacred. To be fair, it’s not their house itself – it’s owned by Erin (the majestic Margaret Cho!), a nurturing mother figure who bought the place using her lawsuit settlement winnings and has been home to this group of twenty-somethings for centuries. But all of these young gay men consider this their collective home away from home. And now that Noah’s best friend, Howie (SNL MVP Bowen Yang), left the East Coast for a comfortable job at a Silicon Valley startup, this is the only time these two guys have spent time together.
In fact, Noah has made it his mission to make sure his uptight and insecure boyfriend has a good time this year, partly to take care of his brother from another mother and partly because he It’s their last hurray: Erin has to sell the place. (His example of being financially irresponsible at fault: “I was an early investor in Quibi.” Point taken.) That’s why when a sexy doctor named Charlie (James Scully) smiles at Howie from across a crowded room, Noah decides to play matchmaker. The upside: The whole gang, including bookish Max (Torian Miller) and tag team hedonists Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomas Matos), get access to a whole other chic world on the island. The downside: This world is mostly wealthy, elitist, lily white, and flippantly — or not so flippantly — racist as fuck.
And then there’s Charlie’s friend, Will (Conrad Ricamora). A perpetually sullen misanthrope, he is not crazy about this possible Charlie/Howie affair. In fact, he doesn’t seem too keen on anything else on the island either, especially Noah – never mind that they both love Alice Munro short stories. Every exchange between these two men involves awkward silences, endless bickering, or some horribly uncomfortable combination of the two. These two men, so obviously bad for each other and yet, so clearly made for each other, end up falling in love? Do we really need to explain that this question is rhetorical?
Contemporary part Pride and Prejudice and part travelogue for the true gay mecca of the island known as Pines, Fire Island never leaves any doubt as to whether his variation on Elisabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are destined to eventually come together. It is a given. It also doesn’t make you wonder how director Andrew Ahn (aisles) and writer-producer-star Booster will delve into the specifics that characterize the popular vacation destination; the film’s recreation of the novel’s introductory ball during a tea dance immediately lets you know exactly where you’re at. A romantic comedy set within the LGBTQ+ community is nothing new. Whoever says that general incivility is the essence of love between detours through underwear nights in clubs and cruising the Pines Pantry, however, exploits the culture of a very particular place. It’s a valentine for a communal gay experience, written in a uniquely insular yet inviting way. You might see this movie do for the Ice Palace this Serendipity made for the Wollman rink.
It’s also the kind of movie that wants to deliver those big shameless rom-com moments while having characters scream about how someone gets their big shameless rom-com moment. There are times when you can feel the movie is trying to connect too many riffs, tick too many boxes, cover too many weak points at once. it is better to think about Fire Island as a showcase for Booster, an incredible stand-up comedian who channels the sensibility of his on-screen act without losing anything in translation. It also helps that he and Ricamora, who has the shy-sexy-snarky vibe down to a science, generate real chemistry together, and that he has Bowen Yang as a winger. (The big gripe: it needs about 78% more Bowen.)
There’s a winning case here for Booster as leading material, but perhaps more importantly, there’s also a territorial flag planted in a genre that has long relegated gay people to roles of eccentric sidekicks and / or moral support. This romantic comedy has its share of those archetypes. It also has gay main characters, gay love interests, gay heroes, gay villains and gay people of color galore. That doesn’t excuse some of the clumsier, pamphlet-friendly scenarios that Fire Island their spear. But it is the warmest gratitude to the people who, by bringing everyone to this picturesque place and inviting them to the Pine Festival, had been the way to unite them.