“Fire Island” Movie Review

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”– Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is a not a BL movie but is clearly LGBTQ+. And it is also a ‘first’ for America. But some background is essential. For those unfamiliar with American culture, Asians have a mixed status in the United States. While not necessarily ‘second-class’ citizens, they certainly are not universally accepted, and in fact have been discriminated against, sometimes horrendously, as a minority group. That, ironically, is even true in the gay world. It was nothing in the ‘gay old days’ to see, hear, and feel the term, “No fats, fems, or Asians.” How is that for welcoming? The complexities of that must be felt to be seen. While diminishing in the gay world presently, it is far from extinct. Why do I bring this up particularly for a review about a gay movie? Well, because this movie is a movie almost exclusively about Asian gay men and how the overt and covert discrimination they have felt in a world, that prides itself on ‘inclusion and diversity’. This is a ‘first’ in the sense that it is a gay movie about Asian gay men (starring out and proud Asian men) and their struggles for acceptance. The weight they carry around about how others (not all, of course) see them as unattractive, having small penises, and certainly not an object of either lust or love. (Or just the opposite- as objects of fetishism because of their perceived exoticness. These guys are ‘rice queens’. They fall in love with the imagery and not the actual person). If you watch this movie with this level of cognition. Then you will have a better and deeper understanding and appreciation of its message and meaning.

This movie is about a group of friends who for years have gotten together for their annual trek to the gay mecca vacation center in the East Coast, Fire Island. Fire Island is known as a get-away spot for the gay community up and down the East Coast and is located just off New York City. It certainly is an attraction for all the gays from the New York City area. It is a peaceful, quiet haven to get away from the hectic city and enjoy being gay with all its freedoms. It is a place to ‘let go’ and enjoy your gayness with no inhibitions. This group of friends is fostered by intense friendships and, as they grow older and their looks fade, they realize that the time to enjoy the pleasures of Fire Island is fast coming to an end. It is going to become a reality because the person they stay with, Erin (Margaret Cho), is having financial problems and intends to sell the house. So, for them, it is all so bittersweet.

The story centers mainly around the two Asian men, Noah (Joe Kim Booster) and Howie (Bowen Yang). Both men have been close friends for a long time and Noah is seemingly more in tune to who and what he is while Howie, is way more introspective and pensive and unfortunately, has internalized a lot of the stereotypical perceptions of Asian gays, especially as they get older. The dialogue in this movie is fresh and plays to the strength of these two men, since both are comedians. They can deliver their lines with pointed accuracy, a perfect sense of timing, and a humor understood by the gay community; yet always reflective of who they are. It becomes Noah’s mission for the week they are on Fire Island to get Howie ‘laid’. By happenstance, Howie meets a white guy named Charlie (James Scully). There is an almost instant attraction to each other and are inseparable for a while. But Howie, true-to-form, realizes that Charlie is out of his league and is in a different world from him. It almost (but not quite) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Howie has never had a boyfriend let a long-term relationship and is thinking his time of being able to enjoy either is coming to an end. In the meantime, one of Charlie’s friends, Will (Conrad Ricamora) joins them, but he seems to be out-of-place in this environment. Will is half Filipino and half white. Initially, Will and Noah dislike each other but it is the kind of dislike that has too much underlying sexual tension to it. In the end, they become more than friends and share a soft gesture of romance, with the outcome unknown.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised at how invested I was in this movie. I generally dislike stereotypical romcoms and this is certainly one of those. It is also filled with some cringeworthy top-of-the-line cliché gay characters including the heavy-set intellectual, feeling out of place, but accepting it with drollness. Yet, they were all so relatable. It dispels this notion of gay means happy all the time. It does not. It showed the struggles of a gay minority trying to fit into the (perceived) gay majority. While all these guys are quite successful, it just never feels like it is enough to crack the walls of acceptability. And then add the burden of being Asian, aging, not feeling attractive or desirable, and frankly not really enjoying this current scene as much anymore adds to the uncomfortableness. In that sense, this movie showed its true colors with wit and humor. While it is a romcom, I wish it had more fortitude in tackling the issues of discrimination within the gay community with a bit more punch to it.

It is a good, light-hearted movie to watch. It is a coming-of-age movie for gay guys as they enter into their ‘middle-age’ phase of their lives. Parts are deeply reflective, but not enough to bring you down. And all these guys, particularly Conrad as Will, Bowen as Howie, and Joe as Noah, made it work and most importantly, made it enjoyable to watch.

Bowen Yang as Howie, probably the most vulnerable character, brings a deeper sense of fragility to the role and he plays it with great depthness and sincerity. Joe Kim Booster, as Noah, brings a certain solidness to his role and a deeper feeling that he is more secure in who he is and his Asian ethnicity. Yet, he still is vulnerable as well. He, if I might add, has a beautiful body. And Conrad Ricamora as Will brings a deep richness to his character. Introverted, smart, and a bit pensive, he comes across as aloof but is still earnestly introspective. He portrays realness and does not change who he is or his personality to the situation. He is very genuine. These guys made this series unique and told their story from three different gay Asian perspectives, dispelling the stereotypical imagery of Asians, all being monolithic in thought and behavior. Kudos, guys.

This movie has no real happy ending and is bittersweet. It surprisingly touched me emotionally more than I was expecting. It is hard to not relate to the imagery of ‘getting older’ with all its consequences. If I could, I would make this movie a mandatory watch for all gay guys under 25. Enjoy your life with all its sensualities for now. But know there will come a time when you will visit your own “Fire Island’ and find it may not be the same anymore.

Rating- 4 out of 5

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