For his latest project, filmmaker and CalArts alum Andrew Ahn (Film/Video MFA 2011) chose a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. The result is Fire Island, a summer rom-com set on one of the islands off the coast of Long Island, New York.
Screenwriter and comedian Joel Kim Booster stars in the film alongside Saturday Night Live favorite Bowen Yang as best friends Noah and Howie. They set out on a wild summer adventure with their group of eclectic party-hard pals to the iconic Pines, which is often referred to as America’s first LGBTQIA+ town. Noah is happily single, but Howie wants the fairytale.
Ahn’s foray into comedy is a departure from his past two award-winning features Driveways and Spa Night. But it was the concept of “found family” within a film full of partying, sex, and drugs that captured his imagination. “I laughed out loud so many times,” Ahn says of reading the Fire screenplay for the first time. In the film’s production notes, he also adds, “What I loved about the script was how funny it was, but at the same time how much heart it had. It was a real Trojan Horse for emotion and interesting themes about gay social class. It felt like it had a little bit of everything wrapped up in a delicious package, and really felt like something I wanted to be a part of.”
Ahn was uniquely positioned to direct the film since he shared many of the experiences that Booster conveyed in the script. Ahn believes that comedy is only funny if it acknowledges the pain it comes from, that by including darker moments within the film, the happy moments are more emphasized. “There aren’t a lot of gay Asian people in this industry,” Booster says in the production notes. “It was really important to me to work with someone who understood the core of this movie and the experience of Howie and Noah, and Andrew was that. He had such a beautiful vision for the movie—he knew the story, loved the story and wanted to tell it in a way that complimented my skill set. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with someone that I’ve trusted more creatively.”
The reception to the film has been positive, earning a 95% “Certified Fresh” rating from movie aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with writer Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com noting, “Director Andrew Ahn proficiently handles the numerous plot lines, character conflicts, and the tonal shifts between raunch and sweetness.”
Fire Island is out now and available for streaming on Hulu.