Fire Island ***
Starring: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully
Director: Andrew Ahn
Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride & Prejudice is familiar territory for moviegoers, with Bridget Jones’ Diary famously reinterpreting the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy for a twenty-first century audience. Now, twenty years later, we have another adaptation, this time taking the classic story of courtship etiquette and throwing it headlong into a week’s vacation at Fire Island Pines, America’s most famous gay vacation spot. Adapted by comedian Joel Kim Booster (Big Mouth, The Other Two), who also stars, this romantic comedy has debuted on Disney+ in the UK.
Noah (Booster) reunites with his friends for their annual vacation, when they stay with their older benefactress (stand-up comedienne Cho) at her house on Fire Island. His best friend Howie (Yang - Saturday Night Live), however, is disillusioned with the place, feeling out of place among the white muscle-bound clones. Noah vows to help him find the man of his dreams, putting his desire to hook-up second, only to find himself over-invested as Howie meets the dreamy Charlie (Scully - You, Straight Up) and his miserable friend Will (Ricamora - How To Get Away With Murder), whose rich and beautiful lifestyle is a million miles from their unabashedly queer one.
Noah and his friends are a fabulously diverse group, adeptly reflecting a twenty-first century group of gay friends. The film spends a lot of time establishing this, casting them counterpoint to the muscle-bound hunks around them, but then Booster spends most of the film in tiny speedos, looking not that dissimilar from the men the group derides. The group may be of all shapes and sizes, but its lead is still a very attractive young man in fantastic shape. I suppose diversity in Hollywood only goes so far.
This is glossy idealism, for sure. As someone who has spent decades watching movies with images of Fire Island Pines burned into my retinas, I appreciate the film’s glamorisation of a holiday-spot that is - quite clearly - an over-commercialised resort. The characters’ excitement about this iconic location reflects its international reputation, but it does come across on screen as little more than a catwalk on a boardwalk; or simply a cruising ground for the wealthy. The friends complain about the prices, for sure, but they love it nonetheless, despite it representing little more than a conveyor belt of the gay meatheads they proclaim to dislike, but also faun over.
Its biggest problem is that the film sits firmly on the fence, completely undecided as to whether Fire Island is a wonderful or terrible place. Noah and his friends hate the people, but still fancy them; they complain about its commercialism, but fully buy into it; they complain about the shallowness, but behave in completely the same way. Howie is positioned as the most everyman of the group, but yet the narrative often positions him as weak. For a film clearly virtue-signalling to its audience, there is still absolutely a focus on the prettiest, the strongest and the people who look nicest in a pair of trunks. And while that is clearly what Fire Island Pines is about, isn't that the opposite of what the film is trying to achieve?
Luscious and colourful, it looks like a cross between a Nancy Meyers rom-com and a Freemasons music video. Unfortunately its script leaves a lot to be desired. It does manage perfectly well to retell Austen’s classic story, but then it’s a tried and tested formula that would be pretty difficult to mess up. The film is severely lacking in jokes, which - for a comedy - is a pretty big flaw. The characters are big and flamboyant, with some witty one-liners here and there, but where are the big gags? Like Bridget Jones sliding down a fireman’s pole knickers-first into a camera crew? Or Mark Darcy’s fisticuffs at dawn? Like the granny pants? Or the tart costume at the garden party? There isn't a single joke that you'll remember after the credits roll, which means that in reality, this light comedy isn't much more than inconsequential - albeit enjoyable - fluff that PALES in comparison to Bridget Jones.
UK Release: Out now on VOD, released by Disney+