If you liked the coming-of-age teen comedies like THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), EIGHTH GRADE (2018), LADY BIRD (2017), and BOOKSMART (2019), you’ll love BANANA SPLIT (2020), an exceedingly well-written and acted comedy that is as poignant as it is funny.
And even though BANANA SPLIT was filmed in 2018, a bizarre copyright issue involving a Bart Simpson T-shirt delayed the film’s release, and so it’s finally getting its wide release this weekend here in 2020. Of course, these days thanks to COVID-19, theaters are pretty much closed, and so if you want to see this one it’s available on Video On Demand services like Xfinity. It’s well-worth the $7.99.
BANANA SPLIT is the story of two high school seniors, April (Hannah Marks) and Clara (Liana Liberato), who over the summer before leaving for college, form an unlikely best friendship, and it’s unlikely because Clara is dating April’s ex-boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Yeah, there’s that.
In an opening montage, we learn about April and Nick’s relationship, from how they first meet, to their junior and senior year romance, to how they break up at the end of their senior year, following April’s acceptance to Boston University, which will take her far away from their southern California homes.
April is devastated, and when she learns from their mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) that not only is Nick now dating a new girl in town, Clara, but that Clara happens to be a childhood friend of Ben’s, she’s overwhelmed. When she meets Clara at a party, she fully intends to make a scene, but strangely, the two hit if off. They have such a good time that before they leave, they exchange phone numbers.
The next thing they know they are hanging out, and as best friends, but to keep things “sane” they decide to come up with some rules, like “no talking about Nick” for instance, and also “no telling Nick.” Which puts their mutual friend Ben in a very awkward position, because he knows, and he’s not supposed to tell Nick. As he constantly warns, at some point this is all going to go to sh*t, because sooner or later Nick is going to find out.
BANANA SPLIT is a superior comedy that is driven most of all by an impressive script by Joey Power and Hannah Marks, who also plays April. The dialogue is off-the-charts real. It’s also hilariously funny.
The story is a good one. In addition to the intriguing plot point of two friends who have dated the same guy, the script takes an honest and refreshing look at the friendship between April and Clara. These two become really close, and they talk openly about how while they are so close, they don’t have sexual feelings for each other and neither is seeking a lesbian relationship.
The honesty of the script and the frankness of the dialogue are the movie’s strengths. The conversations around the dinner table between April, her mom (Jessica Hecht) and her 13 year-old sister Agnes (Addison Riecke) are laugh-out-loud funny, because of the subjects being discussed, the language used to discuss them, and the honesty with which they unfold.
Sure, there’s an awful lot of sex, drugs, and alcohol happening among high school students which some may find disturbing. The film earns its R rating. But it’s all covered in an honest way that makes it work. In other words, the story is not about sex, drugs, and alcohol use. It’s about friendship. And these other things are just part of the story.
The writing by Marks and Power is phenomenal. Not only is it funny, but there are so many smart moments and observations which just click. Like when Clara observes two of April’s friends gesticulating at them at a party. Clara remarks dryly that they look “friendly,” to which April responds “They’re not friendly. They’re just my friends.”
The acting is just as good as the writing. Hannah Marks is just so good as April. Even though there are four main characters in this story, Marks pretty much carries this movie on her shoulders. She makes April a character we can relate to and care about. Her performance is every bit as good as the leads in the four movies mentioned above, Hailee Steinfeld in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE, Saoirse Ronan in LADY BIRD, and Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in BOOKSMART.
Liana Liberato is equally as good as Clara, a role that is a challenging one because Clara is still dating Nick and she has to play both sides of the fence. Yet, she does not come off as a manipulative person, even though ultimately by keeping this secret from Nick she is being less than honest. She comes off as a person who enjoys April’s friendship and her relationship with Nick, and she sees little conflict with continuing with both.
Dylan Sprouse is fine as Nick, but he disappears for large chunks of the movie. Making more of a mark is Luke Spencer Roberts as Ben, the neurotic best friend of both April and Clara who finds himself stuck in the middle and having to lie to his other best friend, Nick. Roberts enjoys many scene-stealing moments throughout this one.
Speaking of scene-stealing moments, Addison Riecke as April’s sister Agnes is not in this one a whole lot, but when she is, she commands attention. The aforementioned dinner table scenes are some of the most riveting and comical scenes in the movie, featuring rapid fire verbal and vulgar onslaughts between the two sisters while their mother struggles yet most often succeeds in keeping the peace. As such, Jessica Hecht is also very good as their loving and sincere single mom Susan.
BANANA SPLIT was directed by Benjamin Kasulke, who imbues this one with so much life and vivacity. His lively direction includes hilarious montages, like when Clara recounts to April the fourteen guys she’s had sex with, makes full and effective use of cell phone texts superimposed on the screen, and uses the camera to capture the vulnerabilities of all four of his main teen characters.
BANANA SPLIT is a winner from beginning to end. It perfectly relates the experience of high schoolers having relationships in the here and now, and even if your high school days are in the past, truths about young relationships never go out of style, and this movie is full of truths. Regardless of your age, this one is worth checking out.
Right now we are practicing social distancing amid the COVID-19 epidemic. You can’t go to your local ice cream eatery and enjoy a banana split with friends.
But you can enjoy this BANANA SPLIT on a television screen in the comfort of your own home. It’s just as fun and better yet, contains far fewer calories.