A love story, but not as expected, Banana Split is that rare teen-aimed beast that caters beyond its core audience. Tackling the less travelled, yet equally relatable road of platonic female friendships, this teen comedy looks beyond the tropes of the genre to deliver something deeper than anticipated.
Having cut his teeth predominantly as a cinematographer on similarly quirky-themed ventures like Safety Not Guaranteed and Laggies, Benjamin Kasulke feels suitably comfortable helming the film. He may not necessarily distance himself from other genre ventures that this could easily be likened to from a technical standpoint (it seems almost certain that Booksmart will earn comparisons), but he evidently has trust in his material. Lead actress and co-writer Hannah Marks has developed a fully rounded tale - as outlandish as it is in its coincidental humor – and the confidence evident in her performance and her narrative is reflected in Kasulke’s organic direction. Similarly, as much as this is Marks’ film, the performances elicited from Banana Split’s supportive ensemble speaks to his leadership, as regardless of a certain character’s prominence, they earn the momentary focus they deserve.
Banana Split could’ve very easily followed a stereotypical path when detailing the assumed central relationship of high-school sweethearts April and Nick. As graduation looms and they face the inevitability of long-distance, they break-up, only for Nick to rebound far sooner than April anticipated. The jealous ex-girlfriend narrative is wisely avoided here though, with April’s initial suspicion and jealousy towards Nick’s new girlfriend making way for an unlikely friendship between the two. Remarkably, this sitcom-esque plot point transforms a could-be problematic set-up into a beautiful exploration of female friendship, richly complex as it may be.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The central relationship of April (Marks) and Clara (Liana Liberato) is what drives the film, and the chemistry between the two is never questioned. Though they meet under bizarre circumstances – Clara being April’s ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend – you completely buy into their connection and their eventual friendship, a testament to how natural Marks and Liberato play off each other. The two are written like real people; no doubt a bonus of having Marks as a co-writer. The interesting aspect of their connection being Nick (Dylan Sprouse) is that he, in a welcome twist, is painted as a fully realized person too, even though he’s sidelined for much of the film – perhaps in a biting reference to how female characters are oft-underwritten and disposable in so many of these teen features.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The elation of Nick and April’s genuine love, Clara and Nick’s sexually-driven attraction, and April and Clara’s deep-seated friendship is elevated further by Banana Split’s eclectic soundtrack. An alternative rock/pop-infused soundtrack accompanies most of the film’s signature moments, with a specific unironic love of Carly Rae Jepsen capping off the film’s identity.
There’s a dreamy sun-kissed, candy-coated sheen placed over California here that makes it look far more delicious than it should. The film doesn’t need to rely on anything overtly fancy though, with the characters all presenting themselves in a manner fitting of their age; yep, Banana Split actually has teenage characters that look like teenagers, who knew?
Banana Split could’ve so easily been a throw-away teen comedy, or based off its title, something far raunchier. Thanks to a genuine script and an honest mentality though, its view on relationships in all their forms should resonate with audiences, especially young women.