In the first 15 minutes of Andrew Ahn’s hilarious and disarmingly sweet film, Fire Island, the South Bay Clipper approaches its destination, and most of the men aboard begin to take their shirts off. It’s a moment to not just show off its handsome cast, but it’s also about approaching a paradise made solely for this group of queer men. Disrobing from the waist up is almost a salute or a way to prepare for a raucous week full of sex, sun, drugs, and friendship. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been remade many times, but never like this.
Joel Kim Booser’s Noah is a huge advocate of Fire Island. Every year, he looks forward to meeting up with his gays, but it’s a time for him to reconnect with his best Judy, Howie, played by Bowen Yang, especially. Howie now lives in San Francisco, but the pair first met in New York City when they worked at a brunch spot that catered to stupidly racist white people who guzzled mimosas like it was their job. Their circle is rounded out by the well-read, Max (Torian Miller), theater queens Luke and Keegan (played by Matt Rogers and Tomas Matos), and mama bear Erin (Margaret Cho). Every year, this group comes together to stay at Erin’s humble abode, but they are devastated to find out that Erin is broke and this could possibly be their last summer on the island together.
Noah is so serious about getting Howie laid that he promises to put his own hooking up on hold until his friend does first. Things look promising when Howie connects with Charlie (Jacob Scully), a wide-eyed, sweet doctor. This is where Booster’s script really kicks into high gear as something meaningful while retaining the sexy and fun atmosphere.
Charlie and his friends, including Conrad Ricamora’s Will, have more money than our central group, and Fire Island raises questions about privilege, racism, and elitism within the gay community that normally get glossed over in other queer stories. Noah is very outspoken when it comes to perceptions of the island or his community, and he doesn’t hold back, especially when his friends’ well-being is at stake. “Premium liquor hits differently from well,” one says to the gang with a bitchy smirk.
Ahn’s films sometimes carry a mournful or cautious quality, and Fire Island allows him to let loose while playing on those themes in new ways. Any time Ahn has a film out, you have to see it, and I can imagine how much fun he had on set with his fantastic cast. Not only does the film entertain, but it serves as a small history lesson of the island, and I don’t think I’ve seen gay sex celebrated so…sexily and nonchalantly in a major film like this before. Bravo to Ahn and Booster!
Booster is such a fearless performer when it comes to his stand-up comedy (his Netflix special, Psychosexual, is fucking hilarious and drops on June 21), so it’s thrilling to see him untangle some sneakily weighty material. Noah, like so many gay men, is guarded and won’t let anyone near his heart. He uses his intelligence as a weapon to keep people away, but Howie is the one that can break through. The interactions between Booster and Yang are biting, touching, and the true heart of the film. If you are used to seeing Yang in comedic roles or from listening to his podcast (Las Culturistas with Rogers), prepare to see him in a whole new light. With this film and Showtime’s I Love That For You, Matt Rogers is giving us a perspective of queer insecurity within his own community. Luke sometimes longs to be the hot one of the group (we all want to be told we’re hot, thank you very much), and Rogers allows Luke’s anxiety come out in tiny ways throughout his performance. You can’t go wrong with Margaret Cho, and Zane Phillips (as the hunky Dex) will have you stalking his Instagram.
Fire Island is flirty, sexy, and well-written. After two years of not being able to celebrate Pride in the streets or with a crowd, what better way to commemorate this summer than with your best girlfriends? Grab your poppers, and let’s go!