“Fire Island,” available June 3 on Hulu, is the amiable comedy about a group of friends spending what may be their last summer together in the gay mecca. The film, written by Joel Kim Booster and directed by out gay filmmaker Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”), is a riff on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as Noah (Booster) tries to be a matchmaker for his best friend Howie (Bowen Yang). Howie is interested in Charlie (James Scully), however, Noah is definitely not interested in Charlie’s friend Will (Conrad Ricamora). As the guys attend tea dances and underwear parties, visit backrooms and sing karaoke — while also saving possibly-sullied reputations — “Fire Island” is ultimately a love story about friends.
Ahn spoke about his fabulous new film.
“Fire Island” is not a raunchy comedy, but a comedy of manners. What appealed to you about this film, which is very different from your previous features?
One thing I noticed immediately after reading Joel’s screenplay was how he shifted the emphasis away from the romantic and put the friendship [between Noah and Howie] at its center. To me that feels really fresh, modern, and queer. As queer people, often our friendships are the most important relationships in our lives. That shifting that Joel did to the story was a really subtle but kind of radical thing to do.
I loved it when I first read the script. Luke is Lydia, Keegan is [Catherine] “Kitty”, Max is Mary. That for me was fun to see, and it shows how a group of people who have very different perspectives on things can still be friends. Not everyone in a friend group has the same feelings about things; that’s not a friend group, that’s just a weird narcissism.
How people treat others — and how they are treated by others — is key to the film and the relationships depicted. What observations do you have about how gay male friendships and relationships work?
I think as queer people, we are very good at assessing each other. It’s a skill that we honed for years. It’s how we know who we can be safe with. Is this person straight or are they gay? We don’t want to get hate-crimed. For me, it’s very built into how we look at the world as queer people. But I think that is also risky and it can keep us from forming really meaningful relationships. This film is trying to explore that and show what are the assumptions we are making and what are the paths to getting to know each other better? It’s very Austen-y, it’s very gay.
What decisions did you make developing the tone of the film?
I love that this film feels like a trojan horse for complicated, darker themes and elements. I never wanted to shy away from those things in deference to the comedy. I wanted to lean into them to show the range of experience that queer people go through. I think it’s through honest conversation about what is bad about our community, or the difficult experiences that we go through that allow us to feel the joy. That it comes out of something and feels extra special because of how we got it.
Can you talk about the island as a character?
We wanted to capture the landscape of Fire Island, the flora and fauna in cinematography and sound design. It’s a buggy sounding movie. That summer, it was very cicada-y. We wanted to show the construction and contrast the organic landscape — the pavilion, which is such an odd-looking building, and that juxtaposition that is fun both visually and thematically.
The film is about characters wanting romance but being encouraged to at least have sex. There are a few sex scenes and some nudity. Can you discuss your decision about how much to show?
I’ve heard Joel [Kim Booster] say this before, but sometimes it’s the looking for sex or the journey to sex that is more exciting and interesting than the sex itself. We wanted to show sex in the film because it is part if that community. We had a long conversation with our producers and Searchlight about how much we can show. I wanted some dicks, and they gave me as many butts as I wanted. I’ll take that deal.
What experiences have you had on Fire Island that you can share with readers?
I had never been to the Island until pre-production for this movie. My favorite memory is going to the underwear party with my cinematographer, Felipe Vara de Rey, to do some shot listing and running into Joel out in the wild of the underwear party. Seeing himself in his natural element. We took a selfie and sent it to Bowen. I look like a troll, but I cherish that photograph.