Hulu’s Fire Island Bittersweet Silliness
Hulu’s Fire Island Bittersweet Silliness What Fire Island, the film, recognises about Fire Island, the location, is that paradise can seem like hell. The clever new comedy does show the famously titillating luxuries of the New York holiday spot: outdoor dance parties with rhythms that reverberate for miles, ornery drag queens dressed in bright colours, and physiques buffed and flaunted like Ferraris. But it also conveys a sense of tension and hopelessness in the air, as well as an emptiness in the landscape. A character wakes up poolside in one scene. His pals, who are also recuperating after a night of drugged-up partying in their underpants, press him for gossip right away. “We’re so bored, girl!” exclaims one. ”
Fire Island, which joins a slew of films and television shows scheduled for Pride Month, is an example of how representation—the watchword of campaigns for onscreen diversity—can be a piercing, even unsettling experience for the viewers it elevates. The film, which is now available on Hulu, is a gay-male Bridesmaids or The Hangover, but it lacks the operatic raunch and humiliation of Judd Apatow’s canon. Director Andrew Ahn and writer Joel Kim Booster (also the film’s lead) rework Pride and Prejudice to focus on society and the spirit. The film brilliantly employs cliché and wackiness as a mask for melancholy truth.
The film’s Elizabeth Bennet character is Noah, a gorgeous and self-assured nurse who lives in Brooklyn. Noah’s startlingly simple opening speech implies he may be Jane Austen’s “single man in possession of a good fortune,” without the riches and the lack of a marriage. He advises his best friend, Howie (a tender performance by SNL’s Bowen Yang), to abandon his traditional romantic ideals and spend their annual week on Fire Island looking for hookups. Nonetheless, would-be husbands swarm. You know what’s going to happen next, and you’re probably getting a little antsy as the will-they-won’t-they plot elements emerge, gloriously self-conscious as they are.
Thankfully, the rom-com rhythms are simply that: beats, which are set to a sophisticated tune. Anh attempts to depict, rather than stylize or sanitise, the gay-male milieu of Fire Island Pines while filming on site. Preconceptions and pettiness may make sunlight meet-cutes seem tense and unpleasant. Whether depicting the hamlet’s prickly etiquette or the price gouging at the only market in the region, the film largely succeeds in making a subculture’s inside jokes intelligible to a larger audience. The script is unaffected by drugs or sex, but it is tuned in to the comedown and, more importantly, to the what’s next that yawns in between highs.
The film is also amusing. Or, to put it another way, it permits its characters to be amusing. Noah’s “sisters” are diverse in ethnicity and attitude, and include rash partygoers (Matt Rogers and Tomás Matos), a literary bear (Torian Miller, who largely acts in shrugs), and a wise house mother (Margaret Cho, giving a layered performance of vacancy). They converse with a convincing lack of pretension. As the sun sets over the water, they all count down, ending with Matos’ character pointing to the horizon and saying, “I’m proud of you, daughter!” “You’re all set!” The phrase is homosexual gibberish that, like so much gay rubbish, implies that the entire universe is absurd.
The word paradise is occasionally used to describe places like Fire Island, and for LGBT people, leaving the straight world behind can feel amazing. However, Fire Island is not a mythologized location. Exclusion is a key component of gay party playgrounds, with heterosexuals being the primary, but far from exclusive, population that is marginalised. The island of Fire Island Pines is portrayed as a classist, racist, and shallow place, with everyone bringing their own psychological baggage from the mainland. The film’s most touching plot thread, regarding Noah and Howie’s bond, depicts how people absorb tyranny in different ways. Even when the language becomes sanctimonious, the film remains grounded: these men met while serving racist yuppies mimosas.
On a deeper level, the film examines what meaningful existence looks like for those who can’t play by the rules, as so many LGBT interpretations have done with Austen’s subtext. What should you desire if you don’t want the heterosexual, nuclear-family dream? Money, fame, or “some gay-marriage nightmare” with “shared Instagram profiles, a French bulldog,” as Noah puts it? Much of Fire Island is built on the idea of friends becoming “chosen family.” However, the film does toy with a more conventional notion of camaraderie. When a monogamy-averse love interest is asked what he wants, he responds with a gesture toward two elderly guys slow-dancing together on a pier.
The happy-go-lucky endings, on the other hand, feel a little pasted on, temporary, and purposefully transitory. The ship back to reality is approaching, and these working-class folks will be unable to return the next year. They’ll muddle through at home and reconnect as soon as they’re able. Some of the art and rhetoric of Pride Month will promote queerness as a pure source of joy, which it may be, but Fire Island demonstrates that it can also demand a serious look at life’s most fundamental concerns. Vacation, as liberating as it may appear, is not the same as emancipation.