“Banana Split” Movie Review


90

     Cinematically speaking, the coming of age story always seems to be relevant.  Particularly since each of us had our own unique path to adulthood with rarely anything we experienced being identical to our peers.  We’re all, for the most part, trying to get to the same place, but the manner in which we get there tends to differ greatly.  This is no doubt demonstrated in director Benjamin Kasulke’s “Banana Split”, which tells the story of a small group of newly graduated high school seniors as they examine their most important relationships in the summer months before they go off to college.  This territory isn’t exactly new, having been explored recently in other similar female led films such as Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” (2017) and Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” (2019), both of which are superior.  And yet, Kasulke’s film still manages to bring forth plenty of originality, style, and actual emotion, even if the situational aspects are limited to cliched teen behaviors.

     Written by the film’s star, Hannah Marks and her writing partner, Joey Power, “Banana Split” delves quickly into the high school level boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, setting the stage for the inevitable time frame in every graduate’s life where they realize none of this was meant to last forever.  April (Hannah Marks) and Nick (Dylan Sprouse) had been friends for quite sometime, but decided about mid way through high school to become an official couple, something they continued to maintain as their senior year came to an end.  

     The beginning of the relationship is shown to have the traditional hallmarks, as everything is great and attraction remains at its peak level.  But we also see the developing distaste for a number of habits both of them have that irritates the other.  But perhaps the most damaging development is that of April deciding to leave Los Angeles and attend college in Boston with Nick choosing to stay home for school.  And this is all takes place in the first ten minutes of the film, leading to the inevitable.  Nick tells April he no longer wants to date, and unbeknownst to him, she doesn’t take the conversation seriously.

     It’s not long, given the fact these kids live within a social media bubble where there every move is featured in self absorbed fashion, that April sees Nick in a social media post with a new girlfriend, leaving her to suddenly wallow in a bout of self pity.  It even gets to the point where she’s Googling “Am I having anxiety or a heart attack?”.  Oh to be eighteen again.

     The circles April hangs out in are the type whose parents apparently allow them to have weekend parties where endless amounts of alcohol are consumed and weed is smoked.  And in sticking to these odd teen conventions, couples take turns using the upstairs bedrooms to get it on.  At one of these parties, April learns the new girlfriend, Clara (Liana Liberato), is present, but without Nick, as she has a family connection to Nick’s best friend, Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts), and has just moved to Los Angeles from Fresno.  Rather than leave the party, April remains and is eventually confronted by Nick’s latest squeeze who seems curious enough about the ex to strike up a conversation.  Ironically, they hit it off.

     April and Clara become best friends, at first utilizing the fact they have Nick in common in order to fuel conversation, but later setting ground rules for themselves where mentioning him is taboo.  That doesn’t stop the new duo; however, from hanging out with Ben who is ordered to keep their relationship secret from Nick, putting him in an unenviable position.  This leads to them sneaking around town, going on hikes, eating at restaurants, swimming at the beach, and developing a closely knit bond, though through it all April still finds herself awkwardly connected to Nick.  Something that is bound to blow up in the faces of everyone involved.

     The script by Marks and Power strikes the kind of authenticity that could only come from having experienced these situations themselves in some fashion.  The dialogue from scene to scene is infused with believable back and forth banter only the best of these kinds of films is accustomed to delivering, with several dinner table sequences involving April, her mother, Susan (Jessica Hecht), and her scene stealing 13 year old sister, Agnes (Addison Riecke) providing some of the film’s best laughs.  And all of it is led by Kasulke who makes his feature debut here, while ensuring every shot in the film is composed to maximize the emotion of the characters and vibrancy of the settings they occupy.  But it’s the performances by Marks and Liberato that carry each and every scene.  You have to believe this scenario could actually occur, as crazy as it sounds, and the two leading ladies deliver from the very first moment they share a scene together. GRADE: B