Is it just me or did other members of the LGBTQIA+ community also wish for a queer re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice or specifically a queer version of the 2005 film which is based on the famous novel? If so, director Andrew Ahn may just have made your wish come true. Being called a gay version of Austen’s classic, Fire Island, which was released recently on Hulu is a rom-com written by comedian Joel Kim Booster and directed by Andrew Ahn. It’s less dramatic and more comic in its tone as compared to Pride & Prejudice, but Fire Island has its fair share of romantic twists and turns. And if you’ve been following gay romances, you might be reminded of 2020’s Peter Paige directorial feature The Thing About Harry. Yes, that wasn’t technically a gay rom-com since one of the characters was pansexual but considering the romantic tribulations of the same-sex romance explored there, the films can be grouped together.
Fire Island follows a group of gay friends Noah (Joel Kim Booster), Howie (Bowen Yang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Max (Torian Miller) and Keegan (Tomás Matos) as they meet together for their annual trip to Fire Island. It’s an island close to Long Island, where they meet for a week of relaxing and having s*x. Noah refers to it as gay Disneyland. There are literally no straight people on the island during the week that they stay at the house of their host Erin (Margaret Cho) who is a lesbian herself. She tells them she may have to sell the house because she’s broke. Amidst the sorrow at that news, they try to make the most of their time at the island, with Noah promising to help Howie have a promiscuous time. That’s how they meet Charlie (James Scully) and Will (Conrad Ricamora), and their rich upper-class friends. The film shows the misadventures caused by the romantic repercussions of this meeting.
The Thing About Harry tells the story of Sam (Jake Borelli), an openly gay man as he drives to a friend’s engagement party with his high school bully Harry (Niko Terho). During the drive and their stay at a motel on their way to the party, Harry reveals that he’s pansexual and in fact used to have a crush on Sam. They bond deeply over the course of that night, only for Harry to abandon Sam the next day when his ex-girlfriend returns. Sam, who is getting over a heartbreak himself, doesn’t take this well. His best friend Stasia (Britt Baron) takes it upon herself to help him find someone on Valentine’s Day and Sam and Harry meet each other again at a party. However, Sam judges Harry, and eventually, they end up arguing. Sam leaves, nonetheless fonder of Harry, but clearly lying to himself about his growing love for Harry. The enemies-to-lovers story is the focus of the film that spans over at least two, if not more, years and has similarities with classic cishet rom-coms like My Best Friend’s Wedding and When Harry Met Sally.
Now while The Thing About Harry is a trendsetting film with the comforting lack of a coming-out moment and a rather sweet story with gay characters unlike the usual stories of their struggles that we get to see, it has a rather bi-phobic moment. When Harry comes out to Sam as a pansexual, he says that someone explained to him that pan is more inclusive than bi. Yes, it’s just one line in a whole film, but it’s very difficult for me to ignore because I’m tired of bi-erasure. It’s a phenomenon in which bisexuality is either portrayed in a poor light or worse, literally not acknowledged. We don’t need a lecture about how being bi is worse than being gay. So, yes, The Thing About Harry may be a progressive film and might be a major step in gay representation, but it takes a step backward in the way it addresses bisexuality. That’s practically the only flaw I see in the film, but it’s a glaring one as far as I’m concerned. So I’m unable to give it a very high Incluvie rating also on account of the fact that every main character is Caucasian. As a rom-com though, it’s practically perfect and so it gets a good movie rating.
Harry: “Well I used to call myself bi, but someone schooled me that pan is way more inclusive and more me.”
In Fire Island we have gay characters and one lesbian character. Unlike The Thing About Harry, there are no straight characters present, and while I’ve no personal enmity with cishet people, there’s something very refreshing about a film without a single straight character. It’s a joyous bubble of queer energy where romantic dynamics develop and the usual shenanigans go down. The Thing About Harry is similar in the way that both have the queer characters comfortable with being queer and none of the conflicts are about them being queer. Fire Island is different in featuring a very diverse racial landscape. It was important to screenwriter Booster that the two main characters be Asian. Margaret Cho, who is openly bisexual is ethnically Chinese and Conrad Ricamora, who is gay just like his character, comes from Filipino descent. So Fire Island is extremely inclusive both in terms of characters on screen and people behind it. The writer and director themselves are both gay. However, that’s the case for The Thing About Harry too. The writer-director Paige is openly gay and so is actor Jake Borelli.
So Fire Island is the more inclusive film of the two with the bi-phobic definition of pansexuality in The Thing About Harry and its obvious lack of colour on screen. That being said, both of them are incredibly trendsetting and important for the way they normalize queer stories where the conflicts have nothing to do with the characters’ sexual identity. I just hope to see more representation for all kinds of queerness soon. Till then, we always have the all-gay comfort zone that Andrew Ahn gives us in Fire Island.