Fire Island: Film Review

Fire Island Movie Poster
Before watching it, I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of Fire Island. As someone who hangs out under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and as a supporter of more diversity in film, I was excited for a modernisation of Pride and Prejudice which was made by queer Asian creatives. A whole new audience would get to see a fun, authentic depiction of themselves on screen and I’d get a new version of P&P - hurray!
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On the other hand, watching the loud, colourful trailer had made me wonder if I’d enjoy the style of humour or find watching the series of parties tiring when compared to the more traditional country ball context. Maybe it would be one of those things which is excellent for the world but not made for my tastes specifically. I also wasn’t sure from the trailer quite how much of the Pride and Prejudice story would make it into the film. With these things, sometimes you get a one-for-one Lizzie Bennet Diaries adaptation and sometimes you get a “you have to squint really hard to see it” Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason kind of a deal. I shouldn’t have worried, really. 
Reading a Jane Austen book is stepping into a very particular world. We can recognise the interactions and character types, but the language, references, and rules of society are a specific thing you work out as you go along. If you’re not a gay guy who frequents party islands, you’ll probably find an at least partially similar experience watching Fire Island, which is one of the reasons why it’s a pretty perfect adaptation. Sometimes you can see modernisations start to sweat, working out how on earth these stakes between characters from the 1700s can translate to a marketing firm in 2018. But Fire Island carries off one of the most faithful Jane Austen modernisations I’ve ever seen with apparently zero effort. The interpersonal politics, class differences, expectations of courtship, character types, and events calendar all just help it map across really well.
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Instead of the Bennet Family, Fire Island follows a found family of gay men on their annual trip to (you guessed it) Fire Island. Each of the 5 sisters has a counterpart, but the story focuses on Noah (funny, cynical, and loyal, with a theory or two about relationships) and his closest friend, Howie (our sweet and romantic Jane Bennet type). We also get the wonderful Margaret Cho playing their “house mother”, as a sneaky Mrs Bennet turn. When Howie starts falling for a handsome doctor, Noah’s forced into the company of the rest of his upper-class friends, including the dead-pan, painfully reserved Will. There’s misunderstandings, growing attraction, confessions of love, letters, and generally all the good P&P stuff, plus gorgeous beaches and some karaoke. The whole thing’s a total joy.
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The cast are fun to be with and, while not every joke landed with me, I ended up just so thrilled that they made it a comedy. Austen adaptations that take themselves too seriously always feel like they’re missing a trick. The Clueless reference was also pretty great. It also included some very timely comments about race, body types, and status in the community, along with a Wickham storyline that questions the lines around consent. These all worked really well to build context and depth for characters we didn’t get to spend much time with. The representation of polyamorous relationships were also refreshing.
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As much as I enjoyed and admired it, Fire Island isn’t a perfect film. The cast is so large it can be easy to forget some of the side characters, something in the pacing made me start thinking about lunch plans for a while at about the 2/3rd mark and, while I appreciate they used Darcy’s letter, it felt a little underwhelming. But it is solidly good.  
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There’s a long history of using the trappings of the literary canon to legitimise marginalised people and experiences, or bring their stories to a wider crowd. From the many queer Shakespeare stagings, to the recent “Anne with an E” series, to the (brilliant) series of novel retellings by Sonali Dev. However, the affection for the source text is rarely so embedded as it is with Fire Island. 
At its best, Jane Austen is always funny, romantic, astute and political, with a few tiny moments of tragedy to ground things. I love how this adaptation married that up with the creators’ talents so well to create a really fresh, enjoyable piece of art. 
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Hazel is a classic lit fan, craft maker, and occasional web series creator, living and working in Bristol, UK. You can watch and support her latest series (a modern adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion) on YouTube: https://youtube.com/c/RationalCreatures. Season 2 coming Summer 2022! 
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