There was a brief window of time in my early 20s where the antics of sex, drugs, and glory-hole that are all seen enthusiastically on display in Hulu’s hilarious and deeply lovely new gay rom-com Fire Island held for me an inescapable allure, as they must for any young man full of hormones and the occasional MDMA in equal measure. But despite those chemical inclinations, I must say I was one of those ones who day-dreamed more fervently of Romance than I did of being the luckiest Pierre in the beachfront pied-à-terre—a serial monogamist at heart, I would often sneak off from the blazing house-beats and festive bouncing buns to watch and re-watch the Cinderella-iffic oeuvre of Julia Roberts, and to plot my maybe next husband.
Which I guess makes me more the “Howie” (SNL breakout Bowen Yang) than it makes me the “Noah” (screenwriter and star Joel Kim Booster) in the friendship that thrums at the big beautiful gay heart of Fire Island, the latest delight from the ever reliably delightful Spa Night and Driveways director Andrew Ahn. (Seriously please go seek out those two earlier gems from Ahn immediately, if you have yet to see them—they are both perfect.) Because Howie wants love, Howie wants marriage, while Noah just wants to plunder hot dudes in their under-carriage. (And yes I immediately apologize for that rhyme.)
Sure, the romantic skittishness of Noah’s love-em-leave-em routine, we realize quickly, is there to shield him from the hurt and rejection he fears will come from ever lingering even a second too long. And Fire Island doesn’t shy away from the racial and class rifts alike that feed into his insecurities, seeing as how both of our leading dudes here are not-well-to-do Asian-Americans that have found themselves awash in a white sea of privilege. But Howie’s heart-emoji-eyes hold their own particular array of pitfalls, and Booster’s script (alongside Ahn’s ever heartfelt direction) doesn’t shy away from the highs and the lows—or perhaps it should be said the tops and the bottoms—of either mindset.
These contrasting wants form the push-pull back-forth friction, the sort no Astroglide can handle, as the boys and their side-boys (the inexpressively delightful trio of Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, and Torian Miller)—plus one ecstatic lesbian house-mother played by Margaret Cho, queen legend icon—descend upon the seminal summer gay mecca to play out their love and lust fantasies over the span of one wild week under the sun. Complicating matters, and generating our plot, right fresh off the ferry Noah, in an Emma-ian fit of busybody pique, decides Howie must get a rail laid post-haste to pry himself outta those dastardly rom-com daydreams. And Noah decides in turn that he won’t lay any rail himself until he can make that happen for his adorably clueless BF-forever.
And lo, the Meat Rack weeps in want as Noah watches Howie hem and Howie haw, purest of angst in shortest of shorts. Enter Noah’s throbbing impatience—especially once a mustache-stud by the name of Dex (Zane Phillips) starts flirting in Noah’s general direction. And so Howie finds himself literally shoved down some stairs toward the first boy Noah catches him eye-humping from across the bar. The heart wants what it wants! Especially when the “heart” is your horny bestie with a boner time-bomb ticking away. Thankfully the boy Howie was eyeing, at whose feet he finds himself literally spilled, turns out to be an adorable doe-boy doctor named Charlie (James Scully), all Caravaggio-esque curls and dorky asides—too good to be true basically, which of course in the way of such things turns out to be exactly that. But then… not quite either. It’s complicated.
I say “of course” because Booster’s plot, we realize five seconds in (because we are told such explicitly via quote), is a riff on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where the complications of boys is that they are always too good to be true until they are (then aren’t) exactly that. If Clueless told us nearly three decades back (good grief, somebody hold my colostomy bag) that Austen’s shtick perfectly translated to the homo-friendly world of catty teen girls going on shopping sprees and the adorkable Paul Rudds who love them—and oh did it eve—then Fire Island takes that one step further, making the subtext (Christian, that disco-dancing Oscar Wilde-reading Streisand-ticket-holding cake-boy friend of Dorothy, aside) explicitly gay text. And g’bless everybody involved for going that extra step.
Really g’bless us all. G’bless us all that we still live in a world (as of the time of this writing) where we can not just say gay, but we can scream it loud, proud, and in a vast array of speedos and sex positions. Where we can slap ourselves into the shopworn-iest molds of heteronormativity like Jane Austen’s and turn group sex into farce and blowjobs into pratfalling physical comedy.
And will gays, in the grand gay tradition of “I’m a Carrie / Miranda half-caff” or “I’m a Sophia with a Blanche rising,” latch onto Fire Island’s characters similarly? I hope so, if only because the forward-facing skinny pretty white face of our community could use some mix-up, and seeing ourselves entertainingly reflected in this motley crew of POCs is a wildly overdue concept. (So overdue in fact that the word “overdue” is rendered immaterial and microscopic under the immense weight of overdue-ness.)
But Fire Island doesn’t come at us to preach—it comes to charm, to tickle, to toss down ten margaritas and set its head sweetly on our shoulder and remind us that friendship and community are where it’s at. After the past two years of plague-induced loneliness and isolation, Fire Island comes to hug. Ahn and Booster prove a formidable team-up, with the latter’s broader comic inclinations proving a surprisingly perfect counterweight to Ahn’s contemplative atmosphere. They just fit real nice, and the actual Fire Island of the title has never seemed so warm. Not specifically in the temperature sense, or the “hot boys in speedo” sense, but in the sense that this is a place where anybody can go, put their feet up, and stare at the sun shimmering gold on the water while the comforting sounds of one’s besties giggling ten feet away spreads the greatest balm known to humankind down deep into our bones. Maybe that’s not actually the honest truth about that place (one’s mileage will obviously vary when it comes to these scenes) but this movie whisks us to that magical possible world anyway—a winning daydream for everybody, dammit.