Directed by: Benjamin Kasulke
Premise: In the summer between high school and college, a young woman (Hannah Marks) breaks up with her longtime boyfriend (Dylan Sprouse). She befriends her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend (Liana Liberato) but her past romance complicates her new friendship.
What Works: Banana Split is a glib and likable story of female friendship. The movie begins with an efficient montage that dramatizes the rise and fall of the romance between high school sweethearts April and Nick, played by Hannah Marks and Dylan Sprouse. It’s an effective opening that tells us what we need to know and makes their relationship a dramatic reality rather than an expository abstraction. Nick rebounds with Clara, played by Liana Liberato. In a turn of events, April and Clara end up fast friends but conceal their friendship from Nick and secrecy and residual feelings threaten their friendship. Banana Split works primarily because of its characters. The movie is well cast. Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato are convincing as friends. Although their relationship is platonic, this story functions the same as a romance – it works because they are a likable pair and the audience will want to see them end up together in the end. It’s also to the filmmaker’s credit that no one in Banana Split is a villain. In a lesser version of this story it’s conceivable that Nick would be a jerk or a dullard or one of the women would be catty. The fact that everyone is about equally good or bad gives the conflict some complexity and nuance. Banana Split is also quite funny and sexually frank. The dialogue is clever and frequently crass and the actors deliver it well. The vulgarity and bluntness give the film some credibility; it feels in touch with the youth culture of this moment.
What Doesn’t: The story of Banana Split holds few surprises. This is a movie about a friendship put to the test and viewers ought to anticipate exactly where this story is going. There are no innovations. The filmmakers don’t even really try to do anything different or unexpected. The formula is done well and the characters are interesting enough to punch up the material but Banana Split generally remains within the teen rom-com framework. The filmmakers don’t take any risks and the film ends in a way that is satisfying but does not make the characters or the audience face any difficult realities about love, sex, and friendships.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Banana Split is a smart and funny tale of young women navigating the complexities of sexuality and friendship. Like most successful romantic comedies, Banana Split is built on a solid dramatic foundation and its engaging characters and funny dialogue elevate the familiar story.
Episode: #839 (February 14, 2021)