Wild Fire is essentially an LGBTQIA+ millennial The Big Chill — the story of one person uniting a group of friends on a revelatory, radically honest evening for all involved. Elliana (Celeste Marcone) is a grieving widow who brings the gang together at her beautiful, remote home. She has connections to each partygoer; many have pasts from which details aren’t necessarily public knowledge and presents that are far from perfect. Del (Jillian Geurts) and Avary (Madeleine Dee) are a married couple with intimacy struggles. Ronnie (Siena D’Addario) and her husband, Tom (Sam Ball), are contending with unspoken desires that weigh on their marriage. Noah (Todd Licea) and Maeve (Annie Gill) raised an adult daughter and can’t quite rediscover their romantic spark (or, in Maeve’s case, determine whether that’s even a desire).
The debut from poet turned writer-director Jennifer Cooney, Wild Fire has a keen sense of its characters and their criss-crossed webs of desire and lust. The key to Cooney’s script is the concept of radical honesty and, ideally, its benefit to interpersonal relationships. Del is ostensibly the mouthpiece for the concept, as she and Avary launch their group into a game of Truth or Dare while sitting around a fire, drinks in hand. They immediately start asking uncomfortable questions, causing their friends to shift awkwardly in their seats and even become defensive. Eventually, they’re asked to look inward as well. None of the friends emerges from Elliana’s home unchanged.
Although somewhat slow to start, the script slowly reveals new connections between characters and the drama becomes much more involving. Sometimes the seemingly constant drumming about radical honesty and musings like “The opposite of life isn’t death, it’s fear” are a little on the nose, but the characters take these lessons to heart in varied and interesting ways.
The performances are good across the board, with a generous roster of independent actors giving it their all. The best of the bunch is D’Addario, who makes Ronnie’s metamorphosis over the night its most radical and whose endpoint feels the hardest won. Geurts is great, too, as the most confident of the characters for much of the running time, who only reveals her deepest emotions towards the conclusion in a tender moment that feels earned.
Cooney makes a strong debut as director. With a primarily dialogue-based drama, the “action” of Wild Fire is in the characters and how they interact, and she understands how to shoot the difficult conversations like sparring matches and the reconciliations like long-awaited embraces. Wild Fire is simple, character-centric storytelling that effectively explores its central ideas without losing sight of its main thesis. It may play like The Big Chill — and Cooney certainly doesn’t deny the inspiration — but it comes to its own, more modern conclusions.