Review: Zinging Dialogue Saves the Paper-thin Plot of 'Hetero'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday October 18, 2021

'Hetero'  (Source:SQFF)

The plot of KJ Kieras and Bentley Eldridge's "Hetero" is the straightforward stuff of teen comedy: When a high school GSA is given an ultimatum to double its membership by getting some straight students to join up, leader Quinn (Sabina Etschied) and their friends set to work convincing their schoolmates — who are either terrified, contemptuous, or apathetic — to sign on and get a "gay best friend" in the bargain.

For Quinn, this means getting to know... and then falling in love with... supposedly straight girl Olivia (McKensie Shea). But will Olivia break their heart? Others in the group end up being paired with mismatched buddies that are such insubstantial presences they don't seem to count toward club membership (or, for that matter, have more than a few minutes screen time, if any at all — the fun exception being a kid named Grant Fleming [Austin Smith] who, everyone frequently notes in something akin to awe, is a "furry").

As the days tick by, the club's members — Sarai (Jubilee Lopez), Zel (Adriane Watson), Cohen (Jonah Blue), and Mickey (Eden Blanford) — try to save their club in between bouts of sorting out their family situations (a couple of them aren't out to their parents), their feelings for each other (Mickey has a longstanding crush on Grant, though that's being overtaken by a burgeoning love for Cohen), and the already-complicated business of being an adolescent. (Zel, for instance, may be bi, but not so much so that she's interested in football player Kyle [Timothy Nguyen], whose off-the-field passes she hastens to avoid.)

"Hetero" is a web series with five episodes. Strung together, they make for an 80-minute feature that might have felt too long and too After School Special-ish except for the zinging dialogue. These are teens with savvy to spare and a clear-eyed, if defiant, understanding of the ways in which the world is arrayed against them. "If you don't get out here, I'm gonna write an exposé about you," one character threatens another, before hurling the chilling punchline: "On Breitbart!" At another juncture, when Quinn and Cohen are called up in front of the entire class to enact a scene from "Romeo and Juliet," one of the gang heckles, "Quinn can't act for shit," only for another to jump right in with: "False. They acted straight for twelve years!"

Then there's the grim moment when Quinn shows the group a graph illustrating the sharp downturn in "gay best friend" participation after a week has gone by; the line plunges, and one GSA member quips, "Oh look, a chart of my parents' love after I came out." In other words, unless you're in high school yourself, you might find the script is full of the comebacks and one-liners you only wish you'd had the smarts and self-confidence to bite back with as a teen.

The group bring that same smart and sarcastic sensibility to their internecine love lives, mixing in plenty of pop-culture influences along the way. After Mickey creates a crime drama-style "murder board" of evidence that Cohen reciprocates his romantic longings, Cohen finds themself the subject of an interrogation scene right out of CSI. Confronted with the evidence by Zel, grilled about a fleeting kiss at a Pizza Hut, and asked for a reason why they don't make an overture to Mickey, Cohen confesses, "I go thrifting. It's just a whole lot of red flags."

It takes a while to parse who's who and who falls where on the rainbow, but the cast of characters is a distinctly modern mix of identities. ("I feel like people should have known that I was a non-binary pansexual when I came out as a vegan," Cohen says.) Beneath all the fun, though, are some serious issues about institutionalized prejudice, peer pressure, familial and religious rejection, and other topics that the series finesses and gets you thinking about without having to hammer them home.

"Hetero" screens at the Seattle Queer Film Festival.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.