The cute romantic comedy “Fire Island” takes the story of “Pride and Prejudice” and really amps up the “Pride.”
Written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, the film modernizes Jane Austen’s 1813 oft-adapted novel, relocates it to the thumping New York beach vacation spot and makes nearly every character a 30-something gay guy. Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Mary, Wickham: They’re all here with new names, colorful tank tops and Grindr.
Running time: 105 minutes. Rated R (strong sexual content, language, drug use, some nudity). On Hulu.
Booster’s idea is an inspired one. Fire Island, and gay culture in general, are chock-full of rules and etiquette that hark back to 19th-century England: There are parties called tea dances (Britain loves tea! The Bennets love scheduled dancing!), events have dress codes and multiple people platonically share bedrooms as if they’re on the brink of the Industrial Revolution.
On the darker side, members of the gay community — contrary to its expressed open-arms attitude — can make snap judgments based on race and class.
That someone would be ignored by potential friends because their rental house isn’t opulent enough, or given the cold shoulder by a love interest because they don’t fit into a specific Instagram-model mold, is very Austen 2022.
The film, which loses its way in an overblown second half, is at its charming best when channeling the dead author’s gift for wise observations about persnickety society. Only here, the witty commentary is about the Meat Rack, Fire Island’s infamous hookup spot.
At the start, a group of pals from New York and California reunite for a week of debauched fun in the Fire Island Pines.
Noah (Booster) is the sex-obsessed Lizzie stand-in; Howie (Bowen Yang) doesn’t feel welcome in the clubby scene of the gay hot spot; Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomás Matos) are joined at the hip like a perkier Romy and Michele; and Max (Torian Miller) would rather just read.
The clique stays in the cheap-ish house of Erin (Margaret Cho), a lesbian and longtime Pines resident who’s on the verge of losing her beloved abode. This summer, the boys reckon, will be their last one together.
Along with its literary sensibility, the movie is a slice of “American Pie.” Noah has pledged to Howie that he will not hook up with anybody until shy Howie gets laid first, putting pressure on both of their holidays. Enter Charlie (James Scully), a smiley doctor, and Will (Conrad Ricamora), his successful and dour friend — a human Ice Palace. Howie starts up a sweet flirtation with Charlie, while Noah instantly detests Will, a la Lizzie and Darcy.
Then Booster’s film, directed by Andrew Ahn, tries to do too many things at once. One side is the clever Austen adaptation, while the other is a sendup of the rom-com genre to the point of parody. There’s dialogue that’s too cliche both as written and delivered, and the plot goes loco. Another quibble is that the interpretation of Wickham’s betrayal — the more dramatic conflict — is a hyped-up letdown. So is the silly finale.
There’s a lot to like, though, especially the talent.
Ricamora is the real star of the film. An actor who is consistently brilliant onstage (he just played Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” off-Broadway) and did strong work in TV’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” he isn’t in nearly enough movies. More Conrad, please! He has sizzling chemistry here with Booster, who, while best known for his stand-up, is a tender, smart, fully formed actor.
Yang’s gift, which may come as a surprise to his “Saturday Night Live” fans, is the way he can easily tap into his emotions so genuinely. He doesn’t get too many chances to show that skill off when he’s playing the iceberg from “Titanic” on “Weekend Update.”
It’s put to good use in the finest scene of “Fire Island,” which is also one of the simplest. It takes place upstairs in the bathroom during a party, when Noah and Howie have a heated heart-to-heart about their friendship. That moment hits harder and rings truer than anything that comes after it.
Still, a pleasant couple hours on Hulu is cheaper and more convenient than a weeklong Fire Island house share.