By Malika Amoruso
Next week, Jane Austen & Co is co-hosting an exciting event at Varsity Theatre: a screening of Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island! Fire Island is an LGBTQ+ adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The event will begin at 7pm on Wednesday, September 22, and is brought to you in partnership with the UNC Asian American Center and the Humanities for the Public Good Symposium.
Fire Island (2022) is set on the eponymous island, known for decades as a “famously hedonistic New York gay haven,” according to Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Times. Vincentelli also gushes that it’s “impossible to resist a film that uses Legally Blonde as a verb and in which two men adorably bond over Alice Munro short stories”.
The movie depicts five gay friends going to Fire Island for a week-long vacation. The cast of characters consists of a found-family dynamic of five young gay men, their adopted lesbian friend/mother figure, and a few familiar faces from Austen’s novel. We have Noah, a young, handsome, and broke Asian American New Yorker who lives for one-night-stands, snubbing his nose at heteronormative standards for gay courtship, and simultaneously being a sensitive and intelligent reader underneath his über-confident facade. His best friend Howie, also Asian American, is our Jane, and unlike Noah, only wants a sweet, conventional love that will last. Erin, (the Mrs. Gardiner/Mrs. Bennet/Charlotte Lucas/Mr. Bennet character), finances the boys’ trip and acts as their wayward chaperone throughout their adventures, while grappling with a harsh reality of her own. Max is a close rendition of Mary Bennet, complete with attention-seeking behavior and looks, and continual comments to prove his literary chops. Keegan and Luke are mimics of Kitty and Lydia Bennet respectively, ready to party hard, and remembering next to nothing by the end of the week. Finally, the potential love interests for the film include Dex as Mr. Wickham, Will as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Charlie as Charles Bingley, and Cooper as a ruthless and at times utterly offensive Caroline Bingley.
Odie Henderson, a reviewer writing for Roger-Elbert.com praises the film for running a vivacious and brilliant line between mirroring Austen’s plots, and critiquing “her lines as a heteronormative ode to marriage and monogamy”. In addition to this balancing act, the film also incorporates a wide breadth of intersectionality. Through dialogue and narration, the film interrogates issues like homosexual relationships and their many forms, racial discrimination on Fire Island and beyond, as well as the secret, and at times, toxic world of gay vacation island hierarchies.
Amongst a sea of overwhelmingly positive reviews, the main critique for the film so far is that some of the comedic lines mimic the sharp dry comedy of comedians like Sandra Bullock yet miss the mark. Guy Lodge writing for The Guardian seems to share this view, and particularly points out the film’s “yassified tone,” in reference to the quippy diction of Noah’s narration including beginning the film with an on-the-nose narration of Austen’s first sentence of Pride and Prejudice.
There are a few moments of the film we are quite excited for Janeites to see. Firstly, there is an adorable and quite honestly, savage karaoke scene where Howie, along with his backup singers Keegan and Luke, show Charlie exactly what he’s missing. It’s a stunning, yet charming, departure from Jane’s self-contained characterization in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but no less entertaining and gratifying for modern viewers.
Another key moment of the film is the meet-cute where Noah and Dex are acquainted while the former is frantically trying to dent a can on the convenience store floor in hopes that the price will be dropped at the register.
Another note on Dex’s character in the film: Wickham is updated to be no less shifty than in the novel, if not more so. He openly admits to Noah during the dinner party that he is invited to at Erin’s house that he has had a rough time and makes money through an OnlyFans account. This tidbit comes back to cause chaos and heartache, and precipitates a dialogue about consent and gay relationships which is not often spotlighted in light, summer-themed rom-coms. It is also important to note that a few key characters were left out of the film to focus on the main narrative and social commentary on gay courtship on Fire Island itself. These include Mr. Collins, the Hursts, the Gardiners, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Georgiana Darcy among others.
An additional point of interest in the film for Austen fans is the scintillating climax consisting of a particular party/club scene where Will and Noah have their first dance à la the Netherfield Ball.
In short, this film is a vibrant, fresh take on adapting Austen’s Pride and Prejudice plotlines and characterizations to a modern and openly diverse world.
*All images taken from Searchlight Pictures Press page*: https://press.searchlightpictures.com/fire-island/