At their worst, teen comedies may exist as a trifling waste of times. Filled with sophomoric jokes and peddling flesh and fantasy over a decent narrative, the genre is often ignored when one things of “cinema.” Banana Split, however, is a great addition to that universe, and this deliciously entertaining and subversive comedy should not be left in the cold.
April (Hannah Marks) and charming as the day is long boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse) may be polar opposites upon first glance, but together they simply work. When high school ends, their chemistry and mutual love for each other falls by the wayside, as April is leaving Los Angeles to go to college and Nick is staying in town (the feature is set in Los Angeles). So their breakup is inevitable, and Nick moves on with the effervescent Clara (Liana Liberato).
This relationship is usually grounds for an actual movie, but the story (Marks co-wrote the script with Joey Power) covers all of these events within minutes! The effect is downright dizzying and seductive, and before the first act is completed, we already know Banana Split is going for something entirely different.
The immediate friendship between April and Clara (they bump into each other during a summer house party) is Banana Split’s heart and soul, and the chemistry between Marks and Liberato feels absolutely organic (they must be friends outside of “reel” life). Without this believability, Banana Split’s complicated storytelling souffle would definitely fall flat.
Helping the cause is Addison Riecke as April’s vulgar young sister Agnes (she swears like a sailor but somehow gets away with being likable!) and Luke Spencer Roberts as Ben, the neurotic and put upon friend of everyone involved in this deception.
Director Benjamin Kasulke brings a light and unobtrustive touch to the proceedings, and watching all of the characters evolve in an organic fashion is one of Banana Split’s sneakiest touches. On a surface level, the comedic flourishes of the feature and at times pop driven approach to narrative may lead one to see Banana Split as an empty calorie experience. Kasulke and company don’t let all those trappings overwhelm the heart of the story, and watching April gradually grow from a high school student to a more mature individual is a thing of beauty.
The film’s ultimate challenge lies in April and Clara’s decision to keep their relationship from Nick a secret and continue to press forward with their union. Marks and Power don’t break any writing rules when it comes to the ultimate execution of the third act, but they also don’t pander to the audience with wish fulfillment endings. Amidst all those one liners and at times breezy approach to the material lies a refreshingly steady and clear eyed narrative. You can laugh all you want and during tough times comedy is a great way to go, but ultimately you will need a friend or two along the way. Banana Split may be promoting an easy peasy piece of frothy entertainment behind that glossy sheen, but looks in this case are thankfully deceiving. It may be against doctor’s orders, but having a banana split, especially when it comes in cinematic form, is much needed sugar for the soul.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Banana Split is now available via On Demand and Digital. Take a listen below to the latest Flick City episode, as I talk about the film. Plus, co-star Addison Riecke elaborates on her love for the Wes Anderson feature Fantastic Mr. Fox.