Though Jane Austen only wrote one of them, there are actually a few truths universally acknowledged: That a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, and girls just wanna have fun. To the elite group of authors of pithy maxims, Jane Austen and Cyndi Lauper, we may add a third ingenious scribe: Joel Kim Booster.
The stand-up comedian makes a splashy debut as both a formidable literary force and an appealing leading man in “Fire Island,” his first feature film as screenwriter, and hopefully the first of many. Though the vision was all Booster’s, the love that went into “Fire Island” emanates from every player.
A true ensemble piece, the movie is filled with the joy and camaraderie of that cheesiest of queer epithets — chosen family. But under the Day-Glo sheen of the carless beach town filled with glistening shirtless queers, it all feels genuinely dreamy. (Or maybe it’s the Ketamine.) Directed by Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night,” “Driveways”) and starring “Saturday Night Live” darling Bowen Yang opposite Booster, “Fire Island” marries the promise of the queer comedy boom with the artistic arrival of Asian American cinema. Gorgeously intersectional, subtly political, and a damn good time — it’s a guaranteed instant classic.
Opening with Jane Austen’s iconic line verbatim, “Fire Island” reimagines the eligible young ladies of “Pride of Prejudice” as a cultured crew of gay friends arriving on New York’s fabled gay island paradise in search of sex, drugs, and maybe a little romance. Booster plays Noah, our narrator and chiseled Lizzie Bennet, a well-read waiter who has been burned too many times to imagine falling in love himself. In response to the cutthroat hierarchies of gay dating culture (the group scornfully recites the common Grindr line: no fats, no fems, no Asians), Noah wields his sexual prowess and physique as armor against vulnerability, and he thinks everyone should do the same.
That includes Howie (Yang), the story’s kind and gentle Jane, who detests the yearly sojourn to the island for all of its meat market superficiality. Like any good matchmaker, Noah takes it upon himself to get Howie laid, convinced that his way of dealing with insecurities will also work for his best friend. Their friendship is the beating heart of the film, and the conversations about their respective places in the hierarchy prove the script’s most courageous and emotionally vulnerable. Like its predecessors, think “Clueless” does “Queer as Folk,” “Fire Island” is ultimately a friendship love story wrapped inside a sexy matchmaking romp.
Though Noah and Howie are the film’s emotionally stunted heart, they are surrounded by a charming cast of characters that’s sure to leave a little something for everyone. Putting a slutty spin on the unhinged poor decision-maker of the group is the always enjoyable Matt Rogers, Yang’s co-host of the beloved “Las Culturistas” podcast and an astute cultural observer himself. He boldly bears the brunt of the plot’s more outrageous spit-takes and wild cards, and let’s just say that’s not the only think he takes like a champ.
Torian Miller and Tomas Matos fill out the group, though their characters don’t get much to screen time to distinguish themselves. As the group’s lesbian mama bear, even Margaret Cho gets relegated to second or third fiddle, which is fine when there’s so much action elsewhere but a little disappointing when she’s the only woman in the movie.
Booster delivers not one but two eligible bachelors (and a few not so eligible ones, of course) in the form of dopey sweetie Charlie (James Scully) and brooding Mr. Darcy stand-in Will (Conrad Ricamora). Along with bitchy muscle gay Cooper (Nick Adams), this considerably whiter group represents the moneyed gays that flock to the island from their Chelsea condos every weekend, renting impeccably designed houses with hot tubs. When Charlie takes a shining to Howie, the two groups are suddenly forced to mingle against their better judgement.
There’s enough jokes to keep the pace afloat, and Booster maps the plot nicely onto his refreshing players. Mr. Wickham works surprisingly well as the blurred lines guy who’s just too good looking for anyone to notice until it’s too late. Ahn brings a cinematic touch that elevates the comedy, such as in a gorgeous wide angle of the group at sunset, turning the figures into dancing puppets whose banter echoes off the water. One can sense his gentle hand guiding Yang to dig deep into Howie’s emotional arc, which delivers real tenderness without overdoing it.
Grounding the lightness and frivolity with real heart, Booster’s laugh out loud script and Ahn’s artistic corralling of the energetic ensemble is a match made in heaven — or gay paradise. They say a discerning queer in possession of a few good judys must be in want of a good movie, and “Fire Island” delivers.
“Fire Island” starts streaming on Hulu on Friday, June 3.