It is a truth universally acknowledged that any modernized Pride and Prejudice adaptation will riff in some way on the “It is a truth universally acknowledged” opening line of the novel, and Fire Island is no exception. Joel Kim Booster—who both stars in the movie and wrote the screenplay—opens it with a voiceover narration:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. You know who said that? Jane Austen, the queen. Pretty dope way to start a story, right? Well, no offense to my girl Jane, but that sounds like some hetero nonsense. Listen, I don’t know much about a good fortune, but not every single man is looking for a wife.
Directed by Andrew Ahn, Fire Island follows a group of gay men spending a week at the queer hotspot off the coast of Long Island, New York. While giving Pride and Prejudice a modern, gay update, the romantic comedy still manages to remain remarkably faithful to its source material. We’ve broken down the major similarities, from the obvious to the more subtle, below.
The Bennet Family
While they’re not blood relatives, the characters in Fire Island have formed a found family of their own. Like the Bennet family of Austen’s novel—landed gentry who are facing a dubious financial future but not in debt—they’re all “poor” though not “poor-poor.” Independent Noah (Joel Kim Booster) is the obvious Elizabeth Bennet here, while sweet Howie (Bowen Yang), “the best of us on almost every level,” takes on the role of older sister Jane Bennet. (For those who might better remember the 2005 movie, that makes Joel Kim Booster the Keira Knightley and Bowen Yang the Rosamund Pike.)
Uptight, sanctimonious Max (Torian Miller) is the found family’s Mary Bennet, the kind of guy who reads Madeleine Albright’s memoir while on vacation. Flamboyant ex-theater school students Keegan (Tomás Matos) and Luke (Yang’s Las Culturistas co-host, Matt Rogers) are the frivolous Kitty and Lydia, respectively.
“Lesbian scam queen” Erin (Margaret Cho) stands in for both of the Bennet parents, though to this writer’s knowledge neither Mr. Bennet nor Mrs. Bennet had an “all-you-can-eat salad” tattoo above their crotch. Erin won a settlement from an unnamed Italian restaurant chain after eating glass, allowing her to purchase the house that the men stay at. Her financial mismanagement means they will soon lose their house, just as the Bennets are in danger of losing their estate after their father dies because there is no son to inherit.
Elizabeth’s famous love interest, Fitzwilliam Darcy, becomes Will (Conrad Ricamora). Just like his literary counterpart, he at first comes across as stuck up and judgmental, especially to Noah, who overhears him telling his friend Charlie (as in Pride and Prejudice’s Charles Bingley) that Noah is “not hot enough to be that annoying.” This is a parallel to Darcy in the book saying that Elizabeth is “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Just like Elizabeth and Darcy, Noah and Will get to know each other better and realize their first impressions of each other were wrong. They even have a confrontation and near-kiss in the rain that could be straight out of the 2005 movie adaptation. By the movie’s end, they are in a romantic relationship—though in a critical difference from the book, Noah and Will are neither married nor monogamous in the finale, and both remain skeptical of what they consider traditional, heteronormative relationships.
Dex (Zane Phillips) stands in for George Wickham, who in the book falsely claims that Darcy denied him his rightful inheritance, winning Elizabeth’s sympathy. In reality, Wickham is a scoundrel who has accrued many debts and seduces young women in pursuit of their dowries. In the movie, Dex falsely claims that Will looks down on him because he has an OnlyFans, winning Noah’s sympathy—but it is later revealed that Will hates Dex because Dex exploits the men he has sex with, including a friend of Will’s.
Cooper (Nick Adams) is possessive of Will and nasty to Noah, much like Caroline Bingley is of Darcy and to Elizabeth. Moses (Peter Smith) is likely meant to be a version of Mr. Collins, the cousin of the Bennets who wants to marry someone but treats the Bennet women as basically interchangeable. Moses is a white guy who is obsessed with Asian men, hitting on Noah, Will, and Howie at different times.
The overall plot is faithful to Pride and Prejudice, but with modern updates (and way more underwear parties). The main characters face social scrutiny on Fire Island not only for being lower class than others vacationing there, but also for their race, appearance, and mannerisms. Early on, one member of the group references the hookup app line “no fats, no femmes, no Asians,” adjectives that describe every member of their group in some way.
Just as Jane gets sick after walking in the rain, forcing her to stay at Netherfield to recover, Howie drinks too much at a party and Charlie spends the night taking care of him. Similarly, early on, Noah drops his phone in the pool, a convenient reason for Will to send him a fateful, handwritten letter, just like Darcy does to Elizabeth, instead of just sending a text.
In Pride and Prejudice, the climax of the novel involves Lydia running away with Mr. Wickham, potentially ruining not only her own reputation but her entire family’s as well. Mr. Darcy proves himself to Elizabeth by paying off Wickham to marry Lydia, saving the Bennet family in the process. In Fire Island, Dex videotapes himself having sex with Luke and posts it to his OnlyFans without Luke’s permission. Will, a lawyer, saves the day by threatening Dex with legal consequences if he doesn’t take the video down and make every effort to remove it elsewhere. Unlike in the novel, “Lydia” and “Wickham” do not end up together.
Gays in Space
While not an Austen reference, Bowen Yang’s character’s fixation on the 2005 Saturday Night Live sketch seems like a meta wink at his tenure as a writer and performer on the sketch show. However, Kim Booster has said that the refence dates back to the earliest version of the movie’s script, predating Yang’s time on the show.