R, 88 mins.
2020, R, 88 mins.
Hannah Marks as April / Liana Liberato as Clara / Dylan Sprouse as Nick / Addison Riecke as Agnes / Haley Ramm as Sally / Jessica Hecht as Susan / Ben Konigsberg as Mordecai / Meagan Kimberly Smith as Molly
Directed by Benjamin Kasulke / Written by Hannah Marks and Joey Power
I would need an infinite number of hands to count how many high school romcoms that I've seen in my 45 years on the planet, especially ones that involve multiple girls fighting over the affections of one hunky male suitor.
SPLIT attempts to subvert many of this genre's most tired and overused
clichés - while still adhering to a few of them - in terms of its
relationship arcs. In its
case, this film provides for an intriguing twist on traditional female
friendship/high school comedies, and one that feels infinitely more
grounded and lived in than most. Like
last year's BOOKSMART
(the film that this one will most obviously and easily be compared to),
BANANA SPLIT is less about exploring the ties between two young teenage
lovers than it is about the intimate levels of closeness between females
outside of their ties to males. So
many high school romcoms are obsessively focused with which boy the
preening girl will end up with. BANANA
SPLIT has none of that and instead hones in on the platonic sisterhood
ties that girls try to maintain.
script was co-written by one of the film's stars, Hannah Marks, which she
started years ago when she was 18-years-old and chronicled her own real
life encounters with the new girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend and how she
become close with the former. One
thing that puts BANANA SPLIT proudly on a recent short list of other
successful teen centric films (like THE
EDGE OF SEVENTEEN,
is how it displays a keen understanding of the mindsets of its adolescent
characters. It really dives
into the warts and all microcosm of teenage life, which involves, yes,
ample partying, drinking, drug use, and aggressive usage of social media.
However, that's not to say that BANANA SPLIT portrays its
characters as hedonistic, selfish, and uncaring simpletons.
Contrastingly, the film has its finger squarely on the pulse of
what makes its youthful characters tick, and thoroughly explores all of
their hidden layers, fragilities, and uncertainties.
Even when the film careens down some derivative and obligatory
turns, it's the essence of these characters that feel tangible and
relatable, which greatly helps it to stand proudly on its own two feet in
a very crowded pack.
plays April in the film, who's shown in the opening stages of the story in
an obligatory loving and nurturing relationship with the hunky Nick (Dylan
Sprouse), and during these opening stages - done with great expositional
quickness via a solid montage - we see the pair blossom from their first
meet-cute and kiss and into a fully formed and inseparable couple.
However, we also begin to see the cracks form in their romance
during this sequence, and the once rosy and happy go lucky pair are on a
course for splitsville. When
the two finally and tearfully break up with one another, April is left to
deal with being single during that hard period between high school
graduation and her attending college in the fall.
Adding insult to absolute injury, April is emotionally ruined when
she discovers that Nick has quickly rebounded with a resident high school
hottie in Clara (Liana Liberato), and jealousy soon rears its ugly head.
in just about any other high school romcom, April would be plotting a
scheme of ultimate revenge against her former boyfriend and his newest
girlfriend would be painted as an evil caricature worthy of being defeated
and humiliated. It's at this
point when BANANA SPLIT truly lays its actual cards on the table and
becomes so refreshingly different and unexpected.
During one night April attends a raging house party, one that Clara
is also at. Instead of
vengefully confronting her, though, April and Clara have a quiet and
awkward moment together, and through casual and polite conversations the
two begin to actually hit it off. In
any other movie, these two would be the worst of enemies.
In BANANA SPLIT, they confide in each other and become BFFS.
More compellingly, they decide to keep their budding friendship a
well kept secret from Nick and even enact some serious rules: (1) They
can't talk about him while together, (2) they can't talk about their own
friendship with him at any time, and (3) No social media pinpointing their
new friendship (they hilariously use fake names - George Clooney and Brad
Pitt - in on-line chat forums and messaging apps).
core dynamic is fascinating to me, mostly because BANANA SPLIT all but
does away with chronicling a potential three way love triangle between
Nick, April, and Clara and instead focuses squarely on the friendship of
the latter two behind the former's back.
The film uses the standard accoutrements of the romcom genre and
finds novel ways to turn them upside down on their heads, and I admired
how much the script places prominence in showing the blossoming bond
between women outside of their links to men.
There's great amusing pleasure to be had here in sequences
involving April and Clara not only confiding in one another with their own
deep seeded concerns and anxieties, but also in how they sneak around to
ensure that Nick is none the wiser. Better
yet, I truly liked what they did with the Clara character, who could have
easily and lazily been written as a one note antagonist to April in a
lesser script, but here she's a congenial spirit and positive influence on
April. And they both love
each other's company, despite the elephant in the room that cast a large
shadow over both of them.
dramatic and emotional veracity contained within BANANA SPLIT is always
apparent, even when some of the colorful dialogue seems a bit too cleverly
forced for its own good at times. April
and Clara are never presented as stock character types, and the
psychological underpinnings of their relationship is always fascinating:
April is wounded and confused by being dumped by Nick, but finds solace
and in the warm hearted and understanding Clara...who's...dating Nick.
If there was a weak angle to the film then it would be in the
presentation of Nick himself, who's mostly just an oblivious pothead that
has no idea what's going on around him.
Still, BANANA SPLIT isn't his story, but April and Clara's to be
told. Marks and Liberato are
superb together here too, and even when the film built around them can get
broad at times, they nevertheless find honesty and truth in their
respective performances. Their
characters and friendship routinely feels organically developed and real