'Fire Island': Hulu's gay rom-com pays steamy, stormy ode to 'Pride and Prejudice'

Patrick Ryan
USA TODAY

Spoiler alert! The following post details important plot points in Hulu's "Fire Island." 

What's a romantic comedy without a little rain? 

Midway through "Fire Island" (now streaming on Hulu), the defiantly single Noah (Joel Kim Booster) finds himself stuck in a downpour with stoic lawyer Will (Conrad Ricamora), who volunteers to help find Noah's buddies after an underwear party devolves into chaos.

The two are introduced while vacationing with their respective friends on New York’s Fire Island, the popular gay destination just off Long Island’s south shore. Despite their initial attraction to each other, Noah feels betrayed after overhearing Will say Noah’s "not hot enough to be that annoying." Adding insult to injury, Will's condescending posse sabotages the burgeoning relationship between Noah's best pal, Howie (Bowen Yang), and their doctor friend, Charlie (James Scully), by jetting in Charlie's ex to crash their beach getaway. 

Tired and frustrated as they traipse through the storm together, Noah calls out Will's snobbery and apparent shame around being gay. Taken aback, Will counters by challenging Noah's romantic ambivalence. 

"You think you've got the whole world figured out, but all you're doing is assuming the worst (about people)," Will says. "It makes it easier for you. You expect everyone to reject you, so when somebody comes along and actually does, it doesn't hurt so much." 

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Noah (Joel Kim Booster, left) and Will (Conrad Ricamora) nearly kiss after a heated confrontation on "Fire Island."

How the rain scene pays homage to 'Pride and Prejudice' 

The squally scene is a direct nod to "Pride and Prejudice," on which "Fire Island" is loosely based. Booster, who also wrote the film, has long loved Joe Wright's 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel and wanted to mirror the rain-soaked confrontation between Keira Knightley's Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen's Mr. Darcy

"Rom-com tropes are very precious to me and I wanted to honor that as much as possible," Booster says. "Writing that scene was a challenge because I didn't want anyone to come away thinking one of them was more right than the other. While they might hit on something honest and truthful about the other character, at the end of the day, they're both a little bit wrong." 

It's a rare moment where Will and Noah let their guards down around intimacy, and one that "captures a truth about being a gay man," Ricamora says. 

"You come out of the closet, which feels like such a monumental achievement because you literally risk being disowned by everyone in your life, and you think your problems are solved," Ricamora says. "But really what you find out as a gay man is that it's just the beginning. We all have these major trust issues we then have to deal with because we've grown up in an environment where we can't trust people, including our friends and family. So when we try to make connections as adults, we come up against all these fears." 

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Noah (Joel Kim Booster, left) consoles his best friend, Howie (Bowen Yang), who is high on ecstasy at a rowdy underwear party.

'There's a really good blooper' with a mud puddle and near-kiss

Searchlight Pictures, which produced "Fire Island," at one point suggested cutting the rain because it would be too expensive. But director Andrew Ahn ("Spa Night") felt it was crucial to the moment. 

"There's something about rain that makes people vulnerable," Ahn says. "There's an immediacy to just being wet. You have to say exactly what you feel because you just want to get out of the rain." 

The scene was shot overnight in the woods, where conditions were less than ideal for Booster and Ricamora, both of whom are shirtless during the argument. 

"The rain machines were freezing cold," Booster recalls. "I can guarantee you Keira Knightley got heated rain machines!" 

At one point, "the on-set medic had us go into a warming van because he took our temperatures and was like, 'Whoa! Your temperatures are going way below where they should be,' " Ricamora says. "So between takes, we were just shivering in this van." 

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Joel Kim Booster endured frigid rain in skimpy clothes while shooting the standout "Fire Island" scene.

At the end of the scene, Noah tries to storm off but falls in the mud, and Will goes in for a kiss after helping him up. In the finished film, Noah pulls away just before the smooch, although they also shot a version where the characters do make out. 

"We ultimately felt, 'Let's save the kiss for the very end (of the film),' " Ahn says. "But there's a really good blooper where Joel's hands slipped out from under him and half his face went into a mud puddle. So when Conrad pulled him up, Joel looked like a swamp monster. I was like, 'Oh, God, are they going to go through with the kiss?' I just had to yell, 'Cut!' "

"I kind of wish they hadn't stopped us," Ricamora jokes. "I would've loved to have seen how that turned out." 

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