“A pair of best friends set out to have a legendary week-long summer vacation with the help of cheap rosé and a group of eclectic friends.”

Director: Andrew Ahn
Writer: Joel Kim Booster
Staring: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Tomas Matos
Release Date: June 3, 2022

If I had to give out an award for best ensemble performance of 2022 thus far, it would go to Fire Island (2022). This cast has remarkable performances, anchored by Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang and Conrad Ricamora. Fire Island is an absolute blast from start to finish, highlighting a very unique place in America with relationships as vibrant as a multicolor highlighter everyone craves in middle school.

What is Fire Island? It is a gay version of Girl Trip (2017) or perhaps a distant relative of Tag (2018), if you want to go with guys being debaucherous for the sake of fun and enjoying one last ride as a theme. Fire Island is hard to define because we have not seen many movies like it before.

Noah (Joel Kim Booster) is a fun-go-lucky guy who is confident in himself. He has a group of friends that he has been going to Fire Island with since their mutual adopted mother Erin (Margaret Cho) bought a house there. The gentleman are all spread thin across the country, but this is their hub where they can be themselves and enjoy a week of time together unfiltered and greatly inebriated.

Noah’s best friend of the bunch is Howie, who is played by Bowen Yang. Noah makes it his point on the trip to not get fucked until he sets his friend up to get fucked. You know, this is what best friends do. Howie begins to hit it off with Charlie (James Scully), and soon there is a fluttering romance evolving that everyone in the friend group gets far too invested in. One of Charlie’s friends is Will (Conrad Ricamora), and he and Noah don’t get off on good footing. They squabble, bicker and fight, but as Noah says, “Somehow, I’m made and horny”.

Love Island explores the dynamics of friends groups. How your one friends change over time and the need to adapt with them, and the it also touches on how not all friends groups are easily compatible, but it is nice to make an effort. As long as no one films you have sex with them then shares it on the Internet. That is a no-go zone.

Noah has to learn that his way of dealing with relationships, change, and self identity must be flexible if he wants to keep his chosen family together. The hunk is called out by those he cares about most and put on the hot seat, resulting in having to both be the student, and also the chaperon when his friends get in trouble. Things get even more sticky when the feelings that Noah and Will have prove to be more than just passerby thoughts.

Will Noah be able to keep his promise to Howie? Will Howie be able to open up and trust Charlie? Does Charlie deserve the trust and what possible ends can his friends go to undermine it? Will Will (just wanted to type that) break out of his introverted shell and make the move Noah is to afraid to? Will the family that came to Fire Island be the same that left it?

These questions all part of Fire Island. These questions are all answered in a funny, meaningful, and surprisingly truthful and realistic way.

I didn’t know Yang before Fire Island, but everyone at my work did. Whenever I brought up Fire Island, they all mentioned his name right away. The joke is on me, because Yang was outstanding as Howie. Despite he and Noah both having hidden insecurities, he is the opposite of Noah in subtle and important ways. Howie knows what his insecurities are and is rather confident in them, using them as a weird security blanket. Noah knows his insecurities but doesn’t want to speak out on them, rather he just covers them up with abs and brash confidence.

There is no better scene of this than when Noah and Howie have their fight near the end of the movie. Howie is leaving the Island because of his tough heartbreak with Charlie. He is speaking to Noah, telling him how he wants to leave to be in his sorrow because that is who he is. He knows what he needs and what he does, and he embraces it. Noah, after getting lessons from Erin and Will, is listening for the first time in a long time. He is hearing Howie and is doing his best to try and understand. This entire sequence is incredibly real. It is the pivot point for Noah, so it shows that Howie is the emotional fulcrum for his best friend.

I totally understand why Will is the heart throb of the movie. Conrad Ricamora plays the quiet, mysterious, attractive love interest beautifully. His the ultimate contrast to Noah, and so the classic opposites attract mantra leaves its stamp lovingly. I loved Will’s quietness in the loud brash environment of Fire Island. No matter the world around him, Will sticks to his guns and who he is. He is the one at the party who sits in the corner, watches and observes.

The romance between Noah and Will is so fucking cute. Within a movie (not stretched over a TV show) we get to feel “Just fucking kiss already!”. The connection to books, the soft dancing in the club, the cute ass note, the karaoke participation and the take down of Dex (Zane Phillips). Everyone of these moments builds up to a well earned, but open-ended, happy ending.

Fire Island is commendable for toeing the line between an over-the-top, never-believable ending, and one that is grounded at least a bit in reality. Sure, there are romantic kisses and loving hugs exchanged, but it’s all with the sunshine of chance shining down on them. There is literally a final joke about someone saying “love” and that being far to cringe for the moment. The couples that are together in the end are not in deep love. Instead, these couples agree to take a chance by opening doors they thought closed.

Fire Island does not flow as well as it does without the excellent screenplay written by (also the star of the movie) Joel Kim Booster. I would never have believed this this story was first to be told of Quibi. Thank god it avoided that hassle. Instead Fire Island flows in and out of its hour forty-five minute runtime with remarkable consistency. There is a fantastic balance of meaningful conversations alongside fun one-liners and memorable moments.

For example (how every expository writing style of me), the dinner meetup when Howie and company invite Charlie and his friends over. The setup for it is hilarious with Erin freaking the fuck out because she has no food. She sends her minions off to go get some with a “fly, you fools” which is always going to make me happy. Then at the restaurant we have Noah smashing cans so they can steal them for free. The interaction with Dex adds layers that will be later in the story, but all of that is hilarious. Then we get to the dinner, and it wonderfully showcases the difference in the two friend groups and the attempt to merge. Charlie is making an effort, but he has some douchebag accompaniments that are there just to steal free food and ridicule. It is cringe, but in a real way. It is a test in kill them with kindness and acceptance. Not everyone passes the test, as is true with reality.

Booster also has a ton of great one-liners in the movie. We have the lines dissing Spirit airlines. We have the running bit about how Charlie’s friends always have the condescending lines toward Noah and his friends. Will just likes to drop ice cream everywhere he goes. Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomas Matos) are just like two puppy dogs yipping add-on lines at the end of conversations. The scene where they are just totally destroying will for being bad at a party game was immediate audible laugh from me.

Fire Island is not even the highest profile gay romance movie of the year. Later this year Bros (2022) comes out which is written by and also stars Billy Eichner. While the vibes of the romance appear to be very different, it is still exciting to see the potential of a gay romantic comedy blockbuster. Bros is being directed by Nicholas Stoller who directed both Neighbors movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Get Him To The Greek (2010). He has success with big crowd-appeasing comedies, so we hope his magic can work on Bros as well.

Fire Island is one of the best movies of 2022 thus far. It is a feel good summer movie with plenty of real depth, but also lots of ridiculous laughs as well. The movie manages to embrace the culture that it is set in without making it seem like a statement project. This movie was made to amuse, and not to appease. Kick your flip-flops off, grab some wine, turn on Fire Island on Hulu and enjoy a summer night.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.0/5 Stars)

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