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Gay Pride (and Prejudice) 

Fire Island gives a contemporary spin to Jane Austen's tales of complicated relationships.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the works of Jane Austen—much like those of William Shakespeare—prove their durability by virtue of how often their stories have been adapted into the modern world. From the teen rom-com translation of Emma into Clueless, to Whit Stillman's witty Mansfield Park variation Metropolitan, to Gurinder Chadha's multicultural Bride & Prejudice, it's clear there's no need to stick with empire waists and Regency-era mores in order for Austen's comedies of manners to be effective. So as Fire Island appears, it answers a compelling question: How is that nobody until now has thought to ask, "What if Pride and Prejudice, but gay?"

There's a little bit more going on in this adaptation by director Andrew Ahn and screenwriter Joel Kim Booster—including exploring the double-isolation of being gay and Asian—than a simple swap of the female characters for more male ones. But while the filmmakers have their own stories to tell, in doing so they convey why it is that Jane Austen's facility with relationship dynamics continues to translate more than 200 years later.

Booster also stars as Noah, the de facto Elizabeth Bennet in this scenario, as he prepares to join four of his closest friends—Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller)—for their annual summer getaway to the home of their pal Erin (Margaret Cho) on the long-time gay sanctuary of Fire Island. Noah has made it his mission to get the perpetually single Howie hooked up, and a sweet-natured fellow named Charlie (James Scully) seems like a great prospect. Then along comes our super-serious Mr. Darcy, Charlie's friend Will (Conrad Ricamora), who becomes as instantly infuriating to Noah in his seeming elitism as he will eventually become appealing.

Various other character counterparts emerge as well, naturally, including the randy-but-potentially-reputaton-ruining fellow (Zane Phillips) filling the Mr. Wickham role, and Erin's financially precarious state allows for an effective approximation of the class dynamics at work in Pride and Prejudice. One of the most effective twists, however, is turning Noah and his friends into the stand-ins for the Bennet sisters, and Erin as their surrogate mom. It's a lovely way to emphasize the way that LGBTQ people often find themselves more connected to families of choice than to their biological families, yet still with all of the same accompanying emotional complications, petty jealousies and well-intentioned meddling.

Those relationships emerge naturally but entertainingly from the performances, which prove pretty solid across the board. It's understandable that Booster gave himself the lead role, but at times he's the weakest link in the cast, especially when trying to convey his shifting feelings toward Will. Ricamora, on the other hand, is a fantastic Darcy-come-lately, capturing all of the character's emotional constipation and earnest moralism, all while remaining likeable when it's important. The biggest revelation might be SNL standout Yang, whose showcase roles to date have mostly asked him to be the sassy slinger of one-liners. Here, he's funny while also being tremendously vulnerable, when it would have been just as easy seeing him kill it as the more acid-tongued Noah.

Not surprisingly, Fire Island is considerably more, shall we say, "adult" in its content than a genteel, period-piece version of Pride and Prejudice; Austen likely never envisioned a scenario where all the Bennet girls would gather a pile of drugs on the table to pick their favorite for an evening of debauchery, or a "dark room" for anonymous sex. Booster's script does mix obvious crowd-pleasing bits like a karaoke performance of Britney Spears' "Sometimes" with more out-of-left-field jokes—Erin blames her lost fortune on being "an early investor in Quibi"—so it winds up a little bit uneven as comedy.

As a story of the search for love, however, it's quite disarmingly successful, since it's simultaneously about finding love from a chosen family, finding romantic love, and finding the ability to love yourself. Jane Austen might have seen happy endings primarily as ones where everyone ended up married, but Fire Island takes a broader view, while still honoring the story's source for understanding that yearning for connection, no matter what obstacles may emerge.

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