‘Fire Island’ review: You’ll ardently admire and love this queer Jane Austen adaptation

Fire Island -- Set in the iconic Pines, Andrew Ahn’s ”Fire Island” is an unapologetic, modern-day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by the timeless pursuits from Jane Austen’s classic “Pride an

There are plenty of good Jane Austen adaptations, but only a few truly great ones. Good news: Now there’s one more of the latter. 

The most surprising thing about Hulu’s empathetic and sharply funny film "Fire Island" is how faithful it is to Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice," tracing the contours of the beloved novel’s plot and (perhaps more importantly) brilliantly updating its ideas about class, agency, financial anxiety, difficult familial bonds, the institution of marriage and more. And like Austen, screenwriter/star Joel Kim Booster and director Andrew Ahn casually break the unspoken rules that dictate who gets to lead a love story and what they're allowed to want from it.

It’s also the funniest Austen adaptation since "Clueless," and that’s no small feat.

About "Fire Island": No money and no prospects

Booster’s skills go far beyond just punchlines. He and Ahn pitch this story perfectly, anchoring it to the friendship between "sisters" Noah (Booster, playing the adaptation’s Elizabeth Bennet) and Howie ("SNL" standout Bowen Yang, the Jane to Booster’s Lizzy). In doing so, they make "Fire Island" the rare Austen adaptation to understand that while Jane writes a hell of a romance, her protagonists all have first loves who pre-date their swoon-worthy suitors. Be they sisters, aunts, schoolmates, neighbors or friends, the truth is the same: The Austen heroine first gives her heart to her chosen family.


Fire Island -- Set in the iconic Pines, Andrew Ahn’s "Fire Island" is an unapologetic, modern-day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by the timeless pursuits from Jane Austen’s classic "Pride an

And Noah, Howie, Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomás Matos) and Max (Torian Miller) are most assuredly a family — five young, (mostly) broke queer men who love each other like sisters and who reunite yearly on Fire Island, Long Island’s legendary gay vacation Mecca. For one glorious summer week, they spend time with their hostess and lesbian den mom Erin (Margaret Cho), and party, flirt, party, dance, party, hook up, party, eat, browse Tinder and party the hours away. But Howie and Noah are linked by a bond that transcends what they have with the rest of their "sisters," and it’s rooted, at least in part, in their shared experience as Asian men navigating the gay community and all the racism, bigotry, fetishization, exclusion and dismissal that come with it.

"Whatever, I’m still invisible to most of these people," Noah says as he takes off his shirt to display a well-toned torso, brushing off the ribbing of his friends. "What does that make me?" Howie replies, shirt still firmly in place. (The answer to Howie’s question: an A+ Jane Austen heroine, that’s what.)

WATCH FREE ON TUBI: Emma Thompson’s stellar adaptation of "Sense and Sensibility"get the app

This summer, however, things look a little different. Financial woes mean Erin will soon be forced to sell her island getaway; there’s familial tension building between the romantic Howie and the pragmatic Noah, who’s determined to get his friend well and truly laid; and an unexpected connection throws the group into the orbit of some rich, elitist buttholes. Heartbreak is as inevitable as a spilled vodka cran — but at least they’ll still have each other. Won’t they?

See "Fire Island" for: A cast and a screenplay you’ll ardently admire and love


Fire Island -- Set in the iconic Pines, Andrew Ahn’s "Fire Island" is an unapologetic, modern-day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by the timeless pursuits from Jane Austen’s classic "Pride an

Booster’s screenplay is equal parts elegant and frank; he never lays it on too thick, but he also doesn’t have a problem calling it like it is. It’s a sex-positive story about two men who deserve to experience love, lust and romance on their own terms — essentially a rom-com about who gets to be in rom-coms and a romance about how love is far from one-size-fits-all. 

Don’t worry, though — there’s still a Mr. Darcy figure (Conrad Ricamora) in the mix. Give or take the odd moment of unnecessary narration, "Fire Island" is as good an Austen adaptation as one could hope for: smart, sexy, wickedly funny and, yes, unabashedly romantic.

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Yang is the film’s standout (he will absolutely demolish your heart, consider yourself warned), but the entire ensemble shines. No small share of the credit must go to casting whiz Jessica Munks, who fills the Pines with engaging actors who fully understand the assignment — if the film’s Caroline Bingley figure doesn’t immediately make you want to put them in a cannon and fire them into the sun, you have more restraint than I. Throw an empty Sugar-Free Red Bull can and you’ll hit at least three actors giving great performances, whether they’re anchoring the movie or popping up for a few brief lines. 

Luckily, they’ve got a terrific director, too. Ahn’s thoughtful filmmaking channels ‘90s rom-coms and coming-of-age movies one moment and the dewy, elegant solemnity of a Merchant-Ivory film the next. This is the LGBTQ+ "Can’t Hardly Wait"-meets-"Remains of the Day" mashup this critic never knew she always wanted. It’s clever, stylish and undeniably charming.

WATCH FREE ON TUBI: Hugh Grant in James Ivory’s LGBT romance "Maurice" — get the app

But even if Ahn’s cinematic flourishes don’t appeal to you, even if you’re not an Austenite, odds are you’ll still find plenty to love in "Fire Island." Joel Kim Booster, hear our plea: do "Sense and Sensibility" next. 

Grade: B+

"Fire Island" is streaming on Hulu. Rated R. 105 minutes. Dir: Andrew Ahn. Featuring: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomás Matos, Torian Miller, Nick Adams, Zane Phillips, Margaret Cho.

Make "Fire Island" a double feature with: "Sense and Sensibility," streaming free on Tubi

Sense and Sensibility (1995): Other than William Shakespeare, there’s no one more influential on the modern day romantic comedy genre than Jane Austen. And the early 19th century novelist gets one of her best-ever adaptations in this winning romance from director Ang Lee and writer/star Emma Thompson. With its classic story of polar opposite sisters — the reserved, responsible Elinor (Thompson) and the expressive, emotional Marianne (Kate Winslet) — "Sense and Sensibility" basically delivers two rom-com storylines in one. So whether your dream is to hit it off with a charmingly humble Hugh Grant or get stuck in a dramatic love triangle with Greg Wise and Alan Rickman, there’s something for everyone here. Rated PG-13. 136 minutes. Dir: Ang Lee.

"Sense and Sensibility" is streaming free on Tubi.

How to watch "Fire Island"

"Fire Island" is now streaming on Hulu. 

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About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of "How TV Can Make You Smarter," and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.

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