Melissa Harris-Perry: It's The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, if you're a fan of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, you know it's all about witty banter, social expectations, and unexpected romance. In his new Hulu film, Fire Island, comedian and writer Joel Kim Booster reimagined Austen's classic but transports the story to the queer mecca of the movie's title, trading corsets for swimsuits and straight relationships for gay ones.
Pride and Prejudice this Pride Month. [laughs] Get it? Booster stars in the film alongside real-life friends, including Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers. Here's James Scully in a scene from the film, along with Yang, Booster, and the great Margaret Cho. Scully plays Yang's love interest, Charlie, and this moment is right after Booster's character pushes Yang's down the stairs in order to get Charlie's attention.
Charlie: Oh, are you all right?
Speaker 1: It's fine. It happens all the time. [chuckles]
Charlie: Does it really? You must have very strong bones.
Speaker 1: Just my knees, I guess.
Charlie: Oh, God.
Speaker 1: Oh, God. That does not sound right. Sorry.
Charlie: Were you guys going because we were going to catch the sunset?
Speaker 1: So weird. We were too.
Charlie: Oh great. I'm Charlie, by the way.
Speaker 2: We know.
Speaker 1: Never mind. Just keep walking.
Melissa: Fire Island is directed by Andrew Ahn, whose previous films Spa Night and Driveways were nuanced heartfelt dramas. I spoke with Ahn about taking on this very different genre in his latest film. Some have described it, and just to know if you do as a queer rom-com, and if you describe it as a queer rom-com, is it that the subject matter is queer, or have you actually queered the rom-com genre?
Andrew: [laughs] I'd like to say a little bit of both. It's definitely queer. It's two gay romances that we portray in the film, but I also think we had some fun with the form. We wanted to subvert some of the genre expectations of what people might expect in a rom-com at the same time honoring the genre. Both the writer, star, Joel Kim Booster, and I love rom-coms, and this was so much fun to make because of that.
Melissa: You are a rom-com fan prior to this moment?
Andrew: Yes. I love watching a good rom-com. I think Joel and I, we love films like My Best Friend's Wedding. I really love You've Got Mail. The Joe Wright Pride & Prejudice, I think, is so beautiful. There's something about the rom-com that I think is it takes something that's really hard romance, it's really difficult finding love in our lives, and lets us have fun with it.
Melissa: All right. You just dropped the Pride and Prejudice title. This is an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. What do you think that viewers might gain when they think about this famously heteronormative love story retold through this queer lens?
Andrew: I think what Joel Kim Booster did with the adaptation was so brilliant. It really weirdly maps really well the story of Pride and Prejudice onto gay culture on Fire Island. [chuckles] It's really surprising. I think the super cool thing that Joel did to make it really queer was that, as I mentioned before, it focuses on chosen family, on the friendships. I think that for a lot of queer people our chosen family means so much to us sometimes, even more than the romantic relationships in our lives, and I think that it feels super modern and super fresh.
Melissa: When you say "It's almost surprising how well it maps," my first thought was, "Is it?" I think that sometimes our, let's call it, pre-1969, but maybe even pre-1999 world view just disallowed the capacity of so many to see what was right there in front of us in popular culture, in our storytelling, in our understandings of the world because we were so locked into a heteronormative goggles that we actually couldn't see these aspects of gifts of queer culture and life-like chosen family that was showing up in our rom-coms.
Andrew: I think there's something about the slow and steady inclusion of queer stories in culture that I think is really beautiful. Even five years ago, I don't know if we would have been able to make this movie, but I think it's a sign of changing times that queer stories made by queer people are getting the platform like this. I think it's super exciting, and I hope it ushers even more queer stories to be told in many different mediums.
Melissa: Let's talk a little bit about Fire Island itself. I have a dear friend Michael Arsenault who is just a great writer, has this incredible view on cultural space. He always says to me, "I don't do sad gay. That's not what I'm here to do. That's not what I'm here to write. That's not how I'm here to think about things. I want to think about queer joy." Talk to me about Fire Island, not only your film but Fire Island, the place as a location, a space of queer joy.
Andrew: For decades, Fire Island has been a place for queer people to be themselves where they might not be able to in their daily lives that they can get away for a weekend and be amongst a community of people that will love them for who they are. I think it's such a cool thing that we were able to film on Fire Island, that we could be a part of Fire Island's story. That feels so meaningful to me.
Queer joy, for Joel and I, we both felt it was so important that Fire Island not be a coming-out film or a film about our trauma but more about how we celebrate ourselves, how we love each other. Fire Island definitely is a place that can be difficult for some people, and we talk about that in the film. It's difficult for many people of color. It can be really hard to get to unless you're super-rich. We don't avoid the racism and classism that exists there, but at the same time, we wanted to show that this could be a space for you if you go with people that love you.
Melissa: How is directing comedy different from directing drama?
Andrew: Comedy is super hard to direct. [laughs] My first two films, Spa Night and Driveways are more dramatic movies, and I love them, but comedy is so hard to do. There's just something about having to surprise the audience into laughing that I think is really complicated. I really relied on the gifts of my super talented cast, working with Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Tomas Matos. These people are so funny, and if I made them unfunny, I would be such a bad director.
Melissa: Having done television prior, I've never done radio before, it's like at least once a day, I say, "Man, radio is hard." I feel like people might think that it is easier and similarly with comedy just that reflection that "no, comedy is tough."
Andrew: It's super hard, and it's such a precise skill. I worked a lot with our editor, Brian Cates, who is such a legend and so talented and just my partner in crime on this. The difference between a joke landing and a joke not landing could be a couple of frames in the edit. It could be the volume of a syllable in a word. It's really, really detailed work. We crafted this very specifically, and I'm so excited for people to see it.
Melissa: We've talked a lot about through the queer identity piece, but this is also a film where two Asian-American men fall in love. I realized-- As I was watching, I was like, "Oh, I'm not sure I've seen this before." Why is this important?
Andrew: I think for many queer Asian-Americans, it's a really difficult question to answer this question of desirability, and I think it's so special that this film shows that. It's like we are beautiful and we can love each other, and that our shared experiences, but then also our differences can be something that bring us together into a community and whether this is platonic or romantic. I think that there's something so special about a sense of solidarity. I love that our film shows this super dramatic, fun, sexy, queer, Asian-American couple, this romance. I just think it's so special that we have Conrad Ricamora as our gay Asian-American Darcy, our Mr. Darcy. We finally have one. [chuckles]
Melissa: Just a couple of weeks ago, we had Matt Rogers on the show, and I asked him at the time-- It was great. I fell in love a little bit. I mean just all the fun. I saw the goodness. We asked him if he had any rom-com favorites.
Matt Rogers: I can't say that I have a favorite in the genre yet because I don't want to pick at a two or three. I'm going to wait till we have a Julia Roberts-sized [unintelligible 00:11:10] and then I'm going to get back on the takeaway and say my favorite one, but for right now, I'm going to say I feel really hopeful that we're going to be mirroring back to a new generation a sense of romance that we can look forward to.
Andrew: [laughs] I love Matt's answer because I think it's hinting at wanting to say and then having people say in the future that Fire Island is their favorite show. I really love Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Alice Wu's Saving Face. Both of these are smaller indie films that people might not remember, but they both center queer Asian-Americans, and I think that's so special. It's not lost on me that those films walked so that Fire Island could run. It's really important to me that I put Fire Island in a context of a legacy of queer Asian-American film, and it's just that we're getting this platform which is so cool. I'm so excited for us to continue this legacy and for more people to tell their queer Asian American stories.
Melissa: Andrew Ahn is a Korean American filmmaker and director of the upcoming rom-com, Fire Island, which debuts on Hulu June 3rd. Andrew, again, thank you for joining us.
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