The quick-witted "Fire Island" is like Jane Austen, if the 19th-century writer's novels contained more booty shorts and recreational drugs.
Joel Kim Booster's script is a loose take on Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," and he plays a version of her Elizabeth Bennet, a clever gay man named Noah. "Fire Island" is less about marrying well than hooking up well and the characters are friends, not sisters. But Noah, like Elizabeth, pursues all the wrong men because the guy who might be Mr. Right — Conrad Ricamora as Will — alternates between flirting and completely blowing him off.
The movie takes place on Fire Island, the beachy New York enclave where gay people, mostly men, go to get tan and laid. The action is set at two locations, a ranch house owned by a warm lesbian played by Margaret Cho, and a modern mansion peopled by sarcastic men with perfect bodies, baffling personalities and, apparently, a severe allergy to shirts.
Booster has his finger on the pulse of modern gay life, whether it's the always scantily clad character who appears to think "evening attire" means wearing a black thong or dialogue so knowing that it's clear Booster doesn't care if straight people get the jokes. A reference to the "monogamy industrial complex" probably makes sense for everyone. But "Can I trade someone a Crest white strip for a PrEP pill?" and "This is the longest we haven't talked since I said 'Call Me Maybe' was boring" are clearly tailored to folks celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this month — who will appreciate that Booster has put the Pride in "Pride and Prejudice."
The jokes come very quickly in "Fire Island" but the nicest surprise is that Bowen Yang, who seems stuck in loud irreverence as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," demonstrates subtler dimensions of his talent. His Howie is ambivalent about sex and not sure he wants to be on Fire Island until he finds a gentleman caller with potential. As a result, Yang gets to express the low-key loneliness that can result when you're in Party Central but you're not in the mood to party.
Unafraid to go to less sunny emotional territory, director Andrew Ahn deftly balances the shifts in tone in "Fire Island." He also captures the spirit and look of the place, giving the movie an aspirational quality for folks who have not visited it (Warning: a scene in which the buddies engage in the ritual of watching the sun set on a beach may lead to an uncontrollable urge to book tickets).
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that this summer would give us no romantic comedies. I was wrong. "Fire Island" is a romcom, one that enjoys poking fun at tropes such as "confessing things in a gazebo" but also has the confidence to embrace what fans love about them.
*** out of 4 stars
Rated: R for strong language, partial nudity and drug use.
Where: Streaming on Hulu.