Here’s a fresh take: a recent high school graduate breaks up with her boyfriend, and when she meets his new girlfriend, instead of becoming rivals, they become friends. Banana Split, in fact, is in its own way a love story — a platonic one, about a budding friendship between two girls under unique circumstances.
Director Benjamin Kasulke, former cinematographer for local Seattle productions (Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Brother’s Sister), here works with a script co-written by Hannah Marks, who also plays April, one of the young women. Marks is 26 years old, and shows clear promise, even though the opening sequence in Banana Split, detailing the rise and fall of April’s romance with Nick (Dylan Sprouse), is a little bit clunky. It lacks a natural narrative flow, and I found myself worrying that this might be one of those movies with a nice concept but a bit lacking in execution.
But, then the title card comes up (in a lovely neon design of an actual banana split), and then the story settles in. We get to see April in a more straightforward way, not just in an introductory relationship montage, and see her interacting with her loving, single mom (Jessica Hecht) and her sassy 13-year-old sister (Addison Riecke, who is delightful). April is depressed, in a pretty typical 18-year-old girl way, and soon enough she’s running into Clara (Liana Liberato), Nick’s new squeeze, at a house party.
Why isn’t Nick at this party? Clara is asked this very question but her answer is not very memorable. In order to launch this plot, I guess. Clara and April have a few awkward exchanges, and then they hit it off, and before long they’re doing shots. These soon-to-be college kids drink a lot, as such kids are wont to do.
As their friendship develops, both Clara and April keep it from Nick, who is very much a secondary character in this story. Even though he is the guy between them, this story is never about him, which is really what elevates it. It’s always about Clara and April, a shining beacon of female friendship that has very little in the way of melodrama, bucking stereotypes at every turn.
It certainly helps that Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato have a natural chemistry together. Neither of them particularly do with Dylan Sprouse as Nick, or even with Nick’s best friend played by Luke Spencer Roberts, who also happens to be childhood friends with Clara, and develops his own connection with April, and thus gets somehow stuck between every other relationship around him. Roberts does have a quirky charm about him, though, and is fun to watch.
I found myself thinking about the “Bechdel test,” the flawed but useful idea that at least two women be in a work of fiction, and they talk to each other about something other than a man. Banana Split passes this test with flying colors, as Clara and April talk to each other about all manner of things — even though the thing hanging unsaid between them is a young man.
Nick is just what brings them together, though. And of course they make a mess of their lives in myriad definitively useful ways over the course of the summer, as the specter looms of colleges pulling them away from each other, to all corners of the country. Even with the angst, though, I quite liked how honest Clara and April are with each other, if not with, you know, Nick.
It’s also nice that really no character in this story is a horrible person. They’re all just regular kids who make mistakes and learn how to dig themselves out from misunderstandings that breed resentments. It’s a reflection of real life, just with a lighter touch. It’s nice to see a so-called “teen movie” come along that is both this relatable and just a bit of fun. Banana Split isn’t out to be profound, but if you look closely you might find some profundity in the details.