The hits and misses of Fire Island

Searchlight Pictures’ Fire Island  made its highly anticipated debut on Hulu on June 3 and the verdict is in.

Based on the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the movie follows a group of friends as they embark on their annual weeklong summer vacation to the legendary queer resort town off the coast of New York’s Long Island. The film was directed by Andrew Ahn and was written by and stars Joel Kim Booster as Noah. Bowen Yang co-stars as Howie, Noah’s best friend.

The story centers on Noah’s decision to put aside his pursuit of romantic conquest while visiting Fire Island in favor of finding a mate for Howie, who is decidedly shyer and more reserved than the hard-bodied and confident Noah. They are accompanied by their inner circle of friends: Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller). The group sets up shop for the week at the home of their eccentric lesbian surrogate mother Erin played by Margaret Cho.

On the group’s first outing Howie makes a connection with Charlie (James Scully), a handsome doctor that is accompanied by his friends Will (Conrad Ricamora) and Cooper (Nick Adams). There is an instant tension between the two groups of friends which ultimately find themselves hopelessly intertwined as Howie and Charlie develop feelings towards one another. This tension of course is the basis for the conflict within the film and the springboard from which we get to know these characters and see them develop.

As with Austen’s source material, differences in social class seem to be the prevailing issue between these two groups of people. Noah and Howie come from comfortable but much humbler and modest means when compared to Charlie and his friends who are very well off financially. As a result, there is a difference in culture and refinement which Cooper and Will especially seem to take issue with. Compound this with the fact that Noah and Howie’s group is mainly comprised of ethnic minorities, as opposed to the mainly white crew Charlie hangs with, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

Class warfare is very much a part of our lives and deserves exploration in film, but it might have served us better if Fire Island went in harder on the problem of racism within the gay community. The topic is definitely broached, but not as much as it could have been. In my experience I’ve seen people more often overlooked or discounted as a factor of their race in gay social situations as opposed to their financial prowess. There could have also been some exploration of the intersectionality between race and class as well.

One other issue I took with the film was the de-sexualization of the one plus sized character in the entire movie. As a bear myself, I was thrilled to see Max in the mix. However, I could not help but notice that he was always covered up, even in pool scenes. He was also never seen on camera flirting or getting his groove on with someone. There is a throw away line indicating that he spent his nights hooking up in the meat rack, but it would have been nice to see it, not hear it. There is not a lot in the way of explicit sex scenes but to even see him kiss someone would have validated him as a bigger-bodied sexual being.

Fire Island

None of this is to say I did not enjoy the film, because truly it was a great time! It was funny, charming and engaging, filled with characters you immediately love and want to root for. To see a major queer movie fronted by three gay Asian men made my heart explode with joy! It is because of its unique position that I point out where it could have been better. Don’t get me wrong, I also understand that the filmmakers were going after a feel-good movie. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, given the groundbreaking nature of the casting, it automatically ups the stakes and expectations with regards to speaking on representation and race issues. That may not be fair, but it’s a reality.

You owe it to yourself to check this movie out! It was legitimately funny and heartwarming in so many ways. The performances were brilliant across the board. There was no weak link in the casting and its left me wanting more from Joel Kim Booster. This is a great way to kick off your Pride month viewing!

Fire Island is available to stream now, exclusively on Hulu.

This article was originally published on our sister site, Queer Forty.

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.