In the novel Persuasion, Jane Austen describes two long-lost lovers torn apart by inauspicious circumstances. “There could have never been two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved,” she writes. “Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”
In the newest adaptation of the novel, helmed by first-time feature film director Carrie Cracknell, the writing team, Roland Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, take some liberties with Austen’s heart-wrenching prose. In the place of these words, the protagonist, Anne Elliot, played by Dakota Johnson, stares into the camera lens and says, “Now we’re strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes,” as if lamenting about a college fling – not what Austen emphasizes was likely Anne’s one and only shot at true love and happiness.
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From its opening moment, Fire Island ensures its viewer is aware that it is a Jane Austen adaptation. In voiceover, Noah (Joel Kim Booster) recites Pride and Prejudice’s first line, and even goes as far as to show us a copy of the book lying conspicuously on his bedside table. Fire Island loosely follows the structure of this oft-adapted source material, centering fun-loving and stubbornly independent Noah (mirroring the sharp and brazen Elizabeth Bennet) as he accompanies his friends to the country’s ultimate gay-hub, Fire Island. There, he meets his sullen and irritable Darcy, Will (Conrad Ricamora), and the two engage in a delightful love-hate, will-they-won’t-they relationship. Meanwhile, Noah’s best friend Howie (Bowen Yang) falls into a too-good-to-be-true romance with Charlie (James Scully): Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley. Of course, Fire Island comes with a notable twist. Director Andrew Ahn has transformed a story deeply rooted in heteronormative standards and ideals into one about the gay experience. The epicenter of the film lies in its characters’ sexualities, from discussions about the unique struggle of gay Asian invisibility to refreshingly candid conversations regarding the minutiae of their sex lives.
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