‘Fire Island’ is a welcoming and boisterous vacation

“Fire Island” (2022) – “Vacation, all I ever wanted.  Vacation, had to get away.” – “Vacation” (1982) by The Go-Go’s

The next lyric in The Go-Go’s 80s classic is “Vacation, meant to be alone,” however, that is not Noah’s (Joel Kim Booster), Howie’s (Bowen Yang), Keegan’s (Tomas Matos), Luke’s (Matt Rogers), and Max’s (Torian Miller) collective intention. 

It’s summertime, and these five 30-somethings – friends for years – travel on the South Bay Clipper to Fire Island for a week of drinking, dancing, finding drugs, meeting guys, hooking up, and forgetting the stresses of their 9 to 5s, rent, and any other complications that life presents in 2022.

“Get this party started on a Saturday night.  Everybody’s waiting for me to arrive.  Sending out a message to all of my friends.  We’ll be looking flashy in my Mercedes Benz.” – “Get the Party Started” (2001) by Pink

This Pink tune is apropos for “Fire Island” except for the Mercedes Benz mention.  Noah and the guys are working stiffs, so big paychecks and snazzy rides are more foreign than the London Eye and the Sydney Opera House. 

Noah adds, “So, yeah, we’re poor.  Not, like, poor-poor, but poor as in none of us have a chance in hell in buying property, ever.”

Noah (Joel Kim Booster)

They stay with their friend Erin (Margaret Cho).  She owns a spacious, friendly home on the island, and Erin’s always happy to host her buds.  However, this summer will be her last go-round.  She’s selling the place, so this ups the ante for Noah and his pals to live it up this week.  The gents celebrate with pure exuberance, while their support for each other shines.  From the get-go on The Clipper and through Noah’s narration, the film establishes that these five friends eternally trust one another, which allows the audience to enjoy them as a united front for (or against) any hijinks or misadventures that they’ll discover.  

Director Andrew Ahn discusses the friendship showcased on-screen in a May 20, 2022 interview with Flickering Myth.

“I got the script for ‘Fire Island’ a year into the pandemic.  I wasn’t able to hang out with my chosen family, my friends, so to see that in the script, how much the script celebrates chosen family, how it celebrates queer Asian-American friendship, that was super exciting to me.” Ahn said.

Although Noah, Howie, Keegan, Luke, and Max are the Five Musketeers, the latter three are very much supporting characters for comic relief. 

Noah and Howie are the two leads, and these best friends search for romance, but their approaches originate from vastly different spaces on the confidence spectrum.  Noah keeps himself in tip-top shape, regularly and randomly hooks up, including a semi-awkward morning realization – during the opening scene – where his one-night stand is still present in his bed.  No question, Noah is carefree and self-assured.  Meanwhile, Howie’s a bit down and complains that he’s 30 and never had a boyfriend.  His cycle of solitude keeps spinning him in place, and without any experience as a foundation, Howie cannot visualize any romantic success.

They are polar opposites, but they are vacationing in a sizzling place where single gay men appear easier to hook than dropping a fishing line into a school of fish. 

So, Noah and Howie find chances for amour, and no, not with each other, but with a lawyer, Will (Conrad Ricamora), and a doctor, Charlie (James Scully).

If the lawyer and doctor professions immediately call to economic disparities between the sets of friends, that is by design, as “Fire Island” – written by Booster – is patterned after Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.

“The genesis of the entire movie started when Bowen and I (took our first trip to Fire Island).  I brought “Pride and Prejudice” with me as my beach read.  Everything (Austen) is talking about in this book is so relevant to what we are experiencing on this island, the class divisions and the ways people communicated across class,” Booster said in Eric Anderson’s May 18, 2022 AwardsWatch.com interview. 

Booster adds, “And it was so much clearer when you’re on a place like Fire Island, where there are no straight people to oppress us, like how do we oppress each other?” 

Howie (Bowen Yang), Keegan (Tomas Matos), Luke (Matt Rogers), Max (Torian Miller), Noah (Booster), and Erin (Margaret Cho)

Joel and Bowen are best friends in real life, and the chemistry between the two comedians pours off the page and screen.  Howie frequently leans on his BFF for encouragement or to listen, and Noah is always there with a shoulder and ear.  Yes, Howie’s struggles pull away from zany shenanigans.  However, Ahn and Booster leave plenty of such moments, like during a party at the rich cats’ mansion (that looks like a modern-day Hollywood Hills manor smack dab on a New York isle) and clubbing at a popular spot called the Ice Palace, as Andrew filmed on Fire Island, N.Y.

Pals Keegan and Luke regularly offer colorful discourse, including imitating Marisa Tomei during a festive game night.  Meanwhile, Max exemplifies a subdued loner who might disappear for more than a hot minute but returns for a quick quip or two.  For most characters, the dialogue moves lightning fast with jibes and comebacks.  Think attractive 30-year-old Henny Youngmen (and one Youngwoman in Cho) on overdrive.  Charlie, Will and Dex (Zane Phillips) are the notable exceptions, as they seem more measured for different reasons.  For the record, Dex’s subplot feels like it stalls the film’s mojo with unnecessary drama.  Still, the 105-minute runtime moves leisurely to settle into this modern-day LGBTQ tale that is part Jane Austen and part “American Pie” (1999) because these guys are here for rolls in the Fire-Island hay.

Okay, it’s pretty easy to predict the movie’s third act, but “Fire Island” is a welcoming and boisterous R-rated vacation.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Andrew Ahn

Written by:  Joel Kim Booster

Starring:  Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, and Torian Miller

Runtime:  105 minutes

Rated: R

Image credits: Searchlight Pictures

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