Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island (B) is a new take on Pride and Prejudice centered on a group of D-list friends and their encounters with an elite household in the titular famed gay vacation destination. Joel Kim Booster, who also wrote the screenplay, and SNL comedian Bowen Yang are authentic and witty in the lead roles (based on Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Jane Bennet characters, respectively) supported by a warm, winning and understated Margaret Cho in the Mrs. Bennet role. Conrad Ricamora and James Scully are the Darcy and Charles updates of the literary reimagining and are also committed to their performances. It’s actually uncanny how well the Austen archetypes translate to the LGBTQIA+ milieu, and the update is also a coup for Asian representation. The film has fun with remixing both literary and romcom conventions while sending up the devil-may-care attitudes of the inlet getaway, including some cautionary subplots in the statuesque form of Zane Phillips as a charming rogue in the ensemble. The melodrama is a bit uneven at times but the repartee between the co-leads is consistently strong and appropriately sentimental. There are also some pop confections on the soundtrack including covers of Wonka tune “Pure Imagination” and “Sometimes” by Britney Spears. It’s an elevated escape.
With Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick (B+), cinema catches up a bit to television as small screen cast and collaborators bring an outsider cross-cultural sensibility to the traditional Hollywood romantic comedy formula. Star and semiautobiographical co-screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani brings a mild-mannered and endearing quality to his lead performance as a Pakistani Muslim stand-up comic who falls for a woman decidedly outside of his arranged marriage options. Zoe Kazan delivers warmth and wit to the role of the real-life psychiatry student for whom Nanjiani finds himself smitten. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano get some nice bits as her parents, who arrive at a critical juncture in the relationship. The dialogue is largely droll, inventive and natural and the mix of comedy and drama kept at lofty levels. Only in the final act does the film sputter a bit and fall prey to romcom clichés. Overall it’s a winning ensemble and a joyous time, filled with moments that feel new and relatable on screen.