PrEP & Prejudice
Joel Kim Booster’s gay rom-com updates Jane Austen’s most iconic work in an ingenious way.
Like, ohmygod, Happy Pride, you guys.
It’s June, which means everything from ice cream to financial advice comes with a big ol’ rainbow flag attached to it, and what’s more fun, lots of TV shows and movies to match every gay sensibility. The rebooted Queer as Folk is sashaying onto Peacock soon (everything about that particular clause is gay), and Billy Eichner’s Bros, the first major studio film with an all-LGBTQ+ cast, will also be unleashed on the world. But the gayer-than-glitter release that I’ve been most looking forward to is Hulu’s Fire Island, which dropped on June 3.
Mostly, I’ve been looking forward to it because it’s a gay adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, sort of the way Emma was transplanted to a posh Beverly Hills high school 1995’s Clueless. And honestly, I don’t know how many folks join me in the middle of that peculiar Venn diagram where bookworms who love sprawling tales about poor, unmarried girls in Empire waistlines meet fans of bawdy gay comedy featuring hot boys in Speedos drinking too much and telling raunchy jokes about why bottoms should avoid cheese — but if you find yourself there, hello. You are my people.
To make its links to Ms. Austen perfectly clear, Fire Island opens with Jane’s immortal first sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Of course, this is immediately followed by noting that not every man is looking for a wife, per se. And pretty much from that point forward, the Friends of Jane (we’re like the friends of Dorothy, but nerdier) and those who don’t know Pride and Prejudice from Fast & Furious are watching two completely different movies. Both movies are funny, charming, satirical, and full of social commentary. But as we all watch a gaggle of gays spend a week at the titular, iconic, homosexual hideaway, the Austen Army knows exactly what’s going to happen next, which (I believe) makes the whole experience even more fun. I’ll try not to spoil anything too much here, but it might be an impossible task, akin to doing a triple minor country dance to a Charli XCX remix.
Our headstrong, intelligent Elizabeth Bennett in this version is Noah, played by Joel Kim Booster (who also wrote the screenplay). Before I was absolutely clear on who was who, I wondered if Noah might be destined to fall in love with his best friend Howie, played by SNL’s Bowen Yang. However, it soon became obvious that Howie was Fire Island’s Jane Bennett, Elizabeth’s older sister. So no, Noah and Howie are not going to settle down together. And that’s fine; in fact, it’s completely realistic. A few years ago, after my friend Matt’s husband passed away, my mother suggested that I invite Matt out on a date, and my first four words were quite literally, “Ew! Sisters! No. Ew.” So just as Lizzie and Jane were confidantes, soulmates of a sort, and very much loved by the other, Noah and Howie were not going to do the down and dirty, which is as it should be. Rounding out the family are Luke, Keegan, and Max as the sillier of the five Bennett sisters, and — in an inspired bit of genderfluid casting, Erin, a lesbian mother hen played by Margaret Cho who fills in for both the caring but aloof patriarch, Mr. Bennett and his silly, often embarrassing partner, Mrs. Bennett. And why shouldn’t a modern family have a single parent?
As the suitors, the substitute for earnest, somewhat shy Charles Bingley is Charlie, who we initially meet at a tea dance rather than a country cotillion. The standoffish, prideful Fitzwilliam Darcy is simply Will here. If you didn’t know where this was going, you might not notice Will at first — and for those completely ignorant of the original story, I’ll stop right there. Keep your eye on Will, that’s all I’m saying. And yes, we also get glimpses of the rakish and troublesome George Wickham (known here as Dex) and the haughty Miss Bingley (here named Cooper).
What I love so much about Fire Island is not just the chance to revisit one of my favorite stories in a completely new way, but how the modern recasting sheds new light on Austen’s masterwork. The critiques of class might be hard to spot when everyone in the original novel lives on huge estates, waited on by countless servants. But the contrast between Erin’s homey bungalow (still worth millions, let’s not kid ourselves) and Charlie’s multi-story, ultra-chic mansion overlooking the beach is pretty hard to miss. Also, the way that class is defined here — not only money, but also in visible abdominal muscles, masculinity, whiteness (the very opposite of “no fats, no femmes, no Asians”) — is some 21st century social commentary that would make even Jane Austen exclaim, “Yaaaaaass Queen!”
Eric Peterson is a diversity & inclusion practitioner who hosts a podcast about old movies and modern times. Look for The Rewind Project wherever you listen to podcasts and for his debut novel Loyalty, Love & Vermouth wherever you buy books online.