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Austen-inspired 'Fire Island' doesn't let us down

Fire Island.jpeg

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you base your movie on Pride and Prejudice you’ve got a good head start. It’s not foolproof, but using a story that remains engaging and romantic no matter how many times it’s told is a solid foundation that also allows you to branch off to explore other ideas.

Fire Island is the most recent example, a romantic sex comedy written by its star, Joel Kim Booster. The title is its setting, that famed area just off Long Island known for being, as one character describes it, a sort of “gay Disneyland.” Here, a group of friends are taking their yearly trip to the island for lots of fun and, hopefully, lots of sex. Kim Booster plays Noah, a commitment-phobe who’s never had a serious relationship. His mission on this trip is to help his best friend, Howie, hook up with someone. This wouldn’t be too hard, given that’s what most of the people are there to do, except that Howie probably would prefer a serious relationship. Soon enough, Noah meets his Darcy, and off the story goes.

All of which is more reductive than I should make it, but the story and genre beats are all known. What Fire Island does well is to be nuanced in exploring the subtle and not-so-subtle power dynamics associated with race, class, and body image in the gay world. And it allows this world to exist in and of itself, instead of depicting it simply in relation to the heterosexual world, as is often the case in other pop culture. It’s also often very funny, though there are some wild swings in its comedic success rate, especially when it reaches for the low-hanging fruit of topical references. The movie is wildly enthusiastic about sex, which means it’s quite adult, but it doesn’t fall into cartoonish raunchiness like so many other sex comedies do.

While I’m not sure if Fire Island breaks ground, it is remarkable in its racially diverse cast and in its unabashed zeal for these men and the lives they lead. But while representation is drastically important, so is having a good time, and in that, Jane Austen rarely lets us down.

Fire Island is on Hulu June 3rd.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.