“Something Special and Unique and Gay”: Your First Look at Fire Island

To get to the Pines, you have to take the ferry. And even in the waning days of summer, even if it happens to be a sun-kissed Monday morning in September, you’ll find yourself riding with a procession of queer people. A musical-theater ensemble loudly recounts performing at a dinner theater in Santa Fe. A beefy, tattooed man sits arm-in-arm with a person who could be his son, but is most likely not. A man in a White Claw hat who looks like he got lost on his way to Greenwich asks a stranger if he’s on the right ferry. He is. We’re all headed to the same place: Fire Island.

The Pines—a queer hamlet on the larger Fire Island, though the names can be used interchangeably—is a gay mecca. It’s a mythic place where every summer, millions upon thousands of queer people (and only the strongest of allies) take the plane to the train to the bus to the ferry, to gather with sisters and strangers and escape the onslaught of heterosexuality that comprised day -to-day life. It also serves as the setting, inspiration, and title of the feature film Fire Island, from Searchlight Pictures which debuts on Hulu June 3.

“We made something really, really special and unique and gay,” Fire Island star and scribe Joel Kim Booster tells me over the phone, about six months after that ferry ride. “The fact that we did that feels miraculous, considering what we were up against.”

Produced by Jax Media (Russian Doll) and inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Fire Island stars Booster as Noah—a modern spin on Elizabeth Bennet. To Booster, the adaptation was a no-brainer. “Jane Austen’s observations about the way people are awful to each other without being awful to each other—I was like, Oh, my God. This is shade. This is what gay men do all the time.”

Joel Kim Booster

By Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures.

As the ferry pulls into the harbor, we’re greeted by the customary wave of islanders gathered at the Blue Whale, the waterfront bar home to “Low Tea”—a Fire Island tradition where practically everyone communes for happy hour. Instead of tipsy vacationers, today the Blue Whale is populated by cranes, cameras, crew, and cast as production on Fire Island is in full swing. “We were sort of the Walmart greeters of this beautiful queer enclave,” says Bowen Yang, tea Saturday Night Live standout who costars as Booster’s best friend Howie. “It feels like the fifth lady,” Yang says—an allusion to the way New York City was frequently called the fifth star on Sex and the City.

On set, the hum of the island is inescapable as Speedo-clad locals breeze past the “Do Not Disturb—Shoot in Progress” signs to grab groceries and alcohol (mostly alcohol) at the Pines Pantry. Director Andrew Ahn doesn’t seem too concerned as they disturb a scene where Booster’s and Yang’s characters interact with their respective love interests, portrayed by How to Get Away With Murder‘s Conrad Ricamora and You‘s James Scully, and their friend, played by Nick Adams. The sequence also features friends of Noah and Howie, played by Yang’s The Culturistas podcasting partner Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Tomas Matos, and the inimitable Margaret Cho.

The film is scheduled to wrap a few days after my visit, with an overnight shoot recreating the infamous weekly underwear party at the Ice Palace on Cherry Grove, the village adjacent to the Pines. “I went with my cinematographer during the Pines Party—the most peak Fire Island experience,” Ahn says. “We went to the underwear party together and we were like, shot-listing—and we ran into Joel there, who was just there to have fun.”

In a world where queer content typically skews toward the treacly (think Love, Simon), or the tragic (think The Power of the Dog), making a story about gay love for a major movie studio is itself something of a radical act. (Though not too radical: Billy Eichner‘s gay rom-com bros, which also features an all-queer principal cast, hits theaters this September.) A major motion picture that puts queer joy at the fore—and not corporate pride Chase bank queer joy, but underwear-rave Fire Island queer joy—is practically unheard of .


Leave a Comment