Banana Split, 2018.
Directed by Benjamin Kasulke.
Starring Hannah Marks, Liana Liberato, Dylan Sprouse, Addison Riecke, Haley Ramm, Jacob Batalon, Luke Spencer Roberts, Jessica Hecht, Ben Konigsberg, and Meagan Kimberly Smith.
Over the course of a summer, two teenage girls develop the perfect kindred spirit friendship, with one big problem: one of them is dating the other’s ex.
It doesn’t take long before sinking in that Banana Split is going to be more like a nutcracker in terms of viewing pleasure. In one of the romantic comedy’s first of many unnecessary montages, we get a crash course in how the relationship between April (Hannah Marks, also serving as a co-writer on the future alongside her regular collaborator Joey Power) and Nick (Dylan Sprouse, who has had a semi-successful career doing children’s television but will most likely be primarily remembered as Julian in what is still one of Adam Sandler’s stronger broad comedic efforts to date, Big Daddy) blossoms and implodes. Problematically, the downward spiral of the high school dating is set to a series of arguments that are largely muted and hard of hearing in favor of indie-pop songs from composer Annie Hart.
Even having finished the movie (which doesn’t even crack 80 minutes without credits), I couldn’t really tell you why they broke up other than some apparent fighting over not giving each other enough attention and April getting accepted into a college in another state. The latter of which seems like a silly barrier to break off a relationship over considering how far technology has come, but then again, movies still seem to have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to addressing long-distance relationships and everyone’s current favorite buzz terminology, social isolation. Maybe if the coronavirus had crept its way into Banana Split, it would have been more interesting witnessing the relationship conflict.
Instead, it’s a parade of lowbrow sex jokes, drinking, smoking, partying, and other random activities set to more montages as April befriends Clara (Liana Liberato), who happens to be Nick’s rebound girlfriend. Meanwhile, April has the kind of dimwitted friends encouraging her to get her own rebound man, proclaiming that rebound dick is the best dick. Nevertheless, what starts out as a somewhat admirable, even if it’s never really funny, story about two freshly turned adults maturing and realizing that they and women, in general, shouldn’t be tearing each other down to make each other’s lives miserable. They get along and develop deep platonic feelings for one another, but not without setting boundaries which includes not talking about Nick or telling him what’s going on (they give each other codenames in their phones related to one of the defining films of the 90s, which is slightly humorous).
Surprising no one, it all goes to shit, but disappointingly so as it embraces as many romantic comedy clichés as possible. There are some side characters such as Nick’s best friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) who unwillingly becomes aware of the friendship and is threatened into keeping his mouth shut (it’s one of the only organic methods of bonding the girls have), alongside some family members of April. You have your stereotypical mother (Jessica Hecht) awkwardly talking about her own experiences with sex in front of her teenage daughters, of which the younger of the two happens to be 13.
This sister also happens to have a crush on Nick which starts out as funny in a ‘young girl finding a good looking guy hot” way, but later on uncomfortably approaches obsession territory as she desperately wants to marry the guy, who is now of legal age, herself. It’s a really strange subplot that would have generated laughs if it wasn’t stretched into mentally unhealthy territory. Jacob Batalon also pops up as a movie theater manager, which just feels out of place considering all we have really seen him do is play teenagers, most notably Peter Parker’s good friend in the recent Spider-Man movies.
As far as female friendship empowerment goes, Banana Split gets there in a roundabout way that isn’t creative or satisfying. The film is actually completely devoid of characters, overusing montages to push the narrative forward. Maybe this would be forgivable if the music was easy on the ears or if the jokes were actually funny, but it’s all just plain bad with amateurish direction from first-time filmmaker Benjamin Kasulke, who doesn’t bring any good ideas to the table to salvage the writing (there’s an awful segment where April debates doing something only to turn around and imagine Clara physically present in the room with devil horns giving her a push). The biggest offense is a “don’t worry, I’m not a lesbian” joke in a movie about *checks notes*, two girls becoming friends when one of them is currently dating her ex-boyfriend, after the dynamic has been established.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com