Fire Island is this summer’s gayest rom-com
Andrew Ahn’s FIRE ISLAND is an unapologetic, modern day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, the story centres around two best friends (Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang) who set out to have a legendary summer adventure with the help of cheap rosé and their cadre of eclectic friends.
FIRE ISLAND sees single and carefree Noah embark on his annual trip to the island with his closest friends, but this time, he’s determined to orchestrate the perfect hookup for his lovelorn BFF Howie (SNL star Bowen Yang). Howie quickly meets an ideal guy, Charlie, someone with real relationship potential—the only problem is his insufferably aloof best friend, Will, to whom Noah takes an immediate dislike.
Noah (Booster) is happily, defiantly single. Cash might be hard to come by, and sure, his New York apartment might be cramped and disorganized, but Noah delights in his freewheeling independent lifestyle. Every summer, he and his boys, including BFF Howie (Yang), and their friends Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomás Matos) and Max (Torian Miller), head to FIRE ISLAND for a week of non-stop partying and hooking up with hot guys. After arriving at the house on Tuna Walk owned by their friend Erin (Margaret Cho) where the group has always stayed, they’re greeted with unsettling news: Erin has run into financial trouble and will soon be forced to sell the vacation house they considered a second home.
Determined to make what might be their last summer together in Fire Island especially memorable, Noah resolves to help lovelorn Howie find the man, or men, of his dreams. To prove just how serious he takes his mission, Noah promises Howie that he will remain abstinent until he succeeds (yeah, right). The week gets off to a promising start after Howie meets charming doctor Charlie (James Scully), and the two quickly hit it off. But the members of Charlie’s wealthy, accomplished social circle vacationing at their house on Ocean Walk seem to look down on Noah, Howie and their crew. The devastatingly handsome Will (Conrad Ricamora) seems especially disapproving and condescending; yet for some infuriating reason, Noah can’t seem to stop thinking about him.
Amid a classic Fire Island week fueled by underwear parties, dance challenges, karaoke performances, and general debauchery, the gang bickers and banters over potential romantic entanglements. Howie longs for a monogamous partnership like something out of a fairy tale, or at least a 1980s John Cusack movie and Noah can’t imagine ever devoting his life to only one person. As the days roll by, they both find themselves in surprising circumstances and unexpected emotions that just might shape the course of the rest of their lives.
Behind The Scenes
The idea of transporting Austen’s beloved Regency-era romance to modern-day Fire Island first occurred to Booster on his inaugural visit with a group of friends about 10 years ago. He had brought along a copy of the 19th century novel, and as he revisited the tale of the turbulent courtship between the fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five sisters of modest means, and aristocratic landowner Fitzwilliam Darcy, he was struck by the surprising ways in which the book’s canny observations about class and society applied to his own surroundings.
“Fire Island is such a specific place,” says director by Andrew Ahn. “When I got there for the first time, I just was like a sponge trying to soak it all in and I was struck by how much of a queer enclave it is.” Producer Brooke Posch says, “It’s about identity and being comfortable in your skin. I think the family part is definitely just having people around you who support who you truly are. Good and bad.” Comments producer John Hodges, “The structure of the story and the narrative that Joel created is very finite. There is just such beautiful arcs between everything, including the exploration of family, and chosen family.”
“Fire Island is my favorite place to be,” says writer, actor and stand-up comic Joel Kim Booster. “When I was still struggling to be a success working a day job that I hated and was miserable every day, oppressed by just how straight the rest of the world is, you could go there and you would explode because you could feel so free. You can carve out your own space and find the people that you vibe with.”
“There is this other side of the island that is scary and alienating in a way—it is oppressively white and inherently classist,” says Booster, who is of Korean descent. “Once you’re here, it can feel very alienating if you’re a person of color or you’re of a different body type. It’s funny to see how when gay men are together and we are the majority, how we discriminate and divide ourselves even further. I was like, I want to write a story about this.”
Korean American filmmaker Andrew Ahn. Ahn says “I laughed out loud so many times,” after reading the FIRE ISLAND screenplay for the first time. “What I loved about the script was how funny it was, but at the same time how much heart it had. It was a real Trojan Horse for emotion and interesting themes about gay social class. It felt like it had a little bit of everything wrapped up in a delicious package, and really felt like something I wanted to be a part of.”
For Booster, Ahn was uniquely positioned to direct the film as he had lived some of the same kinds of experiences the comedian had tried to capture on the page. “There aren’t a lot of gay Asian people in this industry,” Booster says. “It was really important to me to work with someone who understood the core of this movie and the experience of Howie and Noah, and Andrew was that. He had such a beautiful vision for the movie—he knew the story, loved the story and wanted to tell it in a way that complemented my skill set. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with someone that I’ve trusted more creatively.”
When writing the script, Booster poured many of his own experience into the story, basing the close relationship between Noah and Howie on his real-life friendship with Yang, who accompanies Booster to Fire Island every year. The pair met after Booster moved from the Midwest to New York and formed an immediate bond. “Bowen was the first close gay friend that I had who was also Asian,” Booster says. “There’s so much that we have both experienced that is similar. Finding that person finally and feeling seen for the first time by someone like that is so powerful and important. There’s so much that we can talk about and relate over and so much that goes unsaid that can be shared. We look at each other and it’s like, Oh, I know what you’re feeling right now. This movie was really born out of that experience and that relationship.” Booster continues, “A lot of growth has happened over the course of my time coming to Fire Island.”
The Pines (or FIP) is a hamlet in the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County in New York state that has been referred to as America’s first gay and lesbian town. With the most expensive real estate on Fire Island, the Pines has approximately 600 houses and a 100-unit condominium complex on its square mile of location and is only accessible by water. There are no private vehicles in this part of the Island, no paved roads, and the cottages and beach are only accessible using a series of wooden boardwalks.
Every summer, gay men, women and people representing all facets of the LGBTQIA+ community flock to the shores of Fire Island to relax, soak in the sun, party with chosen family, and perhaps even fall in love. Stretching for 32 miles off the coast of Long Island, the island has served for decades as an invaluable place of refuge, offering vacationers a chance to build camaraderie away from the pressures of conforming to outside societal expectations.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.