I feel like every time I review a romantic comedy; I open by stressing how much I love rom-coms. The genre has been there for me through thick and thin, but with less investment in it, recently, the genre has become one all about copying and pasting across different holidays and continents in the hopes of sticking a landing (thanks, Netflix). But Hulu Original Fire Island is changing things up. A queer rom-com directed by Andrew Ahn, written by Joel Kim Booster, stars Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, Torian Miller, Nick Adams, Zane Phillips.
While gay rom-coms are few and far between, Fire Island manages to both buck the heteronormativity of the genre and wholey embrace tropes and traps that have made rom-coms many folks’ guilty pleasure. Fire Island centers on a group of queer best friends gathering in Fire Island Pines for their annual week of love and laughter (and drugs and drinking and a bunch of sexual exploration).
At the center is Noah (Joel Kim Booster), the irreverent know-it-all who thinks he’s cracked this thing called love by, well, focusing on sex. As the lens that we see the story through, Noah is surrounded by a group that has a lot of the archetypes you can think of. Howie (Joel Kim Booster), the innocent friend looking to finally let loose; Max (Torian Miller), the anxious rule-follower; Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomás Matos), the quintessential fuck-ups that everyone else looks out for; and Erin, the mom of the group (Margaret Cho). But a sudden change of events might make this their last summer in gay paradise, meaning it’s time to do the absolute most. As they discover the romance and pleasures of the iconic island, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limits.
Fire Island is hilarious, romantic, and embodies everything I love about the rom-com genre. Instead of subverting heteronormative rom-com tropes, Booster’s screenplay embraces them and adapts them to queer romances. More importantly, though, the romantic comedy of it all is bolstered by a reinvention of Jane Austen that never feels overdone but instead feels just right. Noah’s narration takes the moments shared by him, his friends, and the guy he totally hates and who totally hates him (but not really) and maps on a quintessential Austen drama.
Noah shows an irreverence that comes with a deep love for his community and his found family. His sharp tongue, quick wit, and fierce loyalty are something that marks and rom-com lead, but it’s the execution that grounds even his meaner moments as ones grounded in looking out for those around him, even when he can’t see that they don’t need his help.
Additionally, the film centers itself around a group of friends that consistently have to push back against beauty standards and class. While offering up a great rom-com, Fire Island also provides explicit commentary on pervasive racism in the queer community, more specifically, how that affects queer Asian men. By having our leads interact with both fetishists and racists, the film offers a sharp takedown of elements of the queer community that need more discussion. Whiteness isn’t the default here, and it shouldn’t be anywhere.
The only issue that the film runs into is that Noah’s narration and calling out to matters within the queer community works. Still, the historical exposition meant to teach the audience and get them up-to-speed can come off as more explanatory than immersive. This strikes a difference in the film’s tone and made me the question: who is the film talking to?
While the history of Fire Island and tea dances feel like a presentation given to those on the outside of the queer community, the commentary about race, class, and beauty standards is delivered in a way that calls out the queer community on its problems. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, and Fire Island manages to be a rom-com that is immensely enjoyable no matter how you identify. That said, I raise the point because the film’s tone shifts in those moments in a way that nearly fumbles pacing.
Ahn and Booster’s work provides social commentary while entertaining the audience with physical and visual gags and amazingly written dialogue. Every bit of Fire Island exceeds expectation and presents an unapologetic queer story that sees joy, friendship, romance, and all the ills that come with them. It’s safe to say that Fire Island will find itself in the halls of rom-com as one of the most iconic, and I hope there are more to come from Ahn and Booster. Fire Island is queer joy above all else.
Fire Island is streaming exclusively on Hulu on June 3, 2022.
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
Ahn and Booster’s work provides social commentary while entertaining the audience with physical and visual gags and amazingly written dialogue. Every bit of Fire Island exceeds expectation and presents an unapologetic queer story that sees joy, friendship, romance, and all the ills that come with them. It’s safe to say that Fire Island will find itself in the halls of rom-com as one of the most iconic, and I hope there are more to come from Ahn and Booster.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.