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A truth universally acknowledged
Before Fire Island, written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, the last movie I had seen that told the story of a gay person was Philadelphia, way back in 1993. No Moonlight, no Call Me by Your Name, no My Own Private Idaho, and not even Brokeback Mountain. Yes, it sounds like I’ve been avoiding gay movies, but in my defense, I had also never seen Pride and Prejudice either even though a new one pops up every few years like scandals involving closeted Republicans. I reference Pride and Prejudice because Fire Island is its gay retelling, and halfway through Joel’s movie, I paused to watch the six-part BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, the version Joel and his mother would watch together every year.1
Here are the Fire Island characters and their P&P counterparts:
Our stars, Noah and Lizzie Bennet.
The latter has what must be the absolute antithesis of resting bitch face. Noah is pricklier than Lizzie. Noah, for the entire movie, is like Lizzie in the brief ten minutes when she blasts Lady Catherine de Bourgh after stoically absorbing all other slights and grievances for 5.9 of the 6 episodes in the miniseries.
Howie and Jane.
I expected Jane to be a hopeless romantic like Howie, but instead, she was mostly devoid of personality. Howie whines and mopes too much, but it is still an improvement over plain Jane.
Will and Mr. Darcy.
Much has been written about Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy, especially the scene where he cools off after riding his horse hard across the English countryside, but I don’t get what makes everyone swoon. Burning from the all-consuming fires of unrequited love as much as the unrelenting heat, he dives headfirst into a common pond and emerges dripping wet, water droplets cascading like unworthy gems off the pure white fabric of his tunic made transparent by the water and sanctified by clinging to his firm flesh as if he were a contestant in the most delicious 19th century wet t-shirt contest. But really, I just don’t get it. It’s probably a shared delusion like Lisztomania or capitalism.
Charlie and Mr. Bingley resemble a pair of golden doodles in both appearance and agreeableness.
Erin and Mrs. and Mr. Bennet.
Joel said on Colbert that Margaret Cho’s character represents Mrs. Bennet, but I think she’s more Mr. Bennet than the missus. Erin isn’t an unbearable shrew, nor has she perfected a complete lack of self-awareness. She also favors Noah in the way Mr. Bennet favors Lizzie.
Cooper and Carolyn Bingley, who I feel most closely resemble their counterparts.
It’s the nose, jaw, eyebrows, wavy hair and similar part, poise, haughtiness, and probably most of their DNA.
Luke is sweet, gullible (or conniving?) Lydia.
Dex plays Mr. Wickham with an OnlyFans account.
Keegan is Kitty if she exclusively wore crop tops and high heels.
And Max represents a more agreeable version of Mary Bennet, but still earns a few eyerolls with comments like, “Small businesses are the lifeblood of this country.”
We need to talk about the sex in Fire Island first. There’s a lot of it, as you might expect from a movie named for a gay Mecca. However, it’s surprising how slowly the movie wades into hot man-on-man action, perhaps as a sop to straight audiences who scare easily. A whole 41 minutes (!) pass before a man kisses another man on the mouth, and it’s a wholesome kiss that could happen in any suburb in America. This is a brilliant strategy for helping straight folk ease into the movie. By the time we get to the dark room activities at the Ice Palace underwear party, the homophobic frog has already boiled.
It is appropriate that as a retelling of P&P, Fire Island is awash in sex. P&P might not have a lot of shirtless guys, guys in speedos and thongs, or guys ironically (?) clad in tighty whities, but not a minute passes where Lizzie and her harlot sisters (save Mary, of course, who is busy wielding Jesus as a cudgel), dressed in what appears to be filmy nightgowns, are foisting their ample bosoms on every passerby. Give it a rest, you hussies! Additionally, the enthusiasm with which Kitty and Lydia hurl themselves at any young man wearing an officer’s uniform makes anything that happens in the back room of the Ice Palace seem chaste. No, that’s a stretch, but gay men partying seems to be an appropriate analogue to Kitty and Lydia’s unrelenting coquetry, which was scandalous for the period. And do not forget that P&P relies on salacious sexual activity as a key plot element. While, at times, gratuitous, you cannot argue that the sexuality in Fire Island is out of place.
Two more quick comparisons before I wrap up:
Drunken karaoke is the modern equivalent of playing the pianoforte in the sitting room for your guests, and I liked Bowen Yang’s rendition of Britney Spear’s Sometimes.
The dancing in Fire Island is more wholesome than whatever diabolical line dancing the Bennets performed at every social gathering.
Fire Island took me on an odyssey from the movie itself; to the six-part Pride and Prejudice miniseries; to Joel Kim Booster’s comedy album, Model Minority; and then to his Netflix special, Psychosexual; before returning to finish up Fire Island. I looked up Joel’s standup hoping to hear more about the gay caste system he hinted at in the movie (“No fats, no fems, no Asians”). In Psychosexual, he suggests that there’s something sinister in the gay dating scene, vaguely saying that contrary to what his straight friends think, dating is not easier for gay men. Is this the gay caste system? And is there some kind of gay omerta that prevents you from talking about it? I would have cut 10 minutes of animal jokes from the Netflix special to make room for this. Here’s my request for your next Netflix special: call it No Fats, No Fems, No Asians. I liked what you did with Fire Island, and I would come back to see that comedy special.
Written by Joel Kim Booster; Directed by Andrew Ahn