Review: ‘Banana Split,’ starring Hannah Marks, Liana Liberto and Dylan Sprouse

March 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Liana Liberato and Hannah Marks in “Banana Split” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Banana Split”

Directed by Benjamin Kasulke

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy “Banana Split” has a predominantly young white cast of characters (with some African American and Asian representation) portraying middle-class teenagers.

Culture Clash: Two women in their late teens befriend each other, even though one of them is dating the other’s ex-boyfriend, and they agree to keep their friendship a secret from the boyfriend.

Culture Audience: “Banana Split” will appeal primarily to people who like female-oriented comedies that are entertaining and have adult humor.

Hannah Marks, Addison Riecke, Liana Liberato and Jessica Hect in “Banana Split” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Can you become best friends with the person who’s currently dating an ex-lover just a few months after the relationship ended? That’s the question posed in the breezy and somewhat raunchy comedy “Banana Split,” which has two women in their late teens going through this exact situation while hiding their friendship from the boyfriend. And making matters even more uncomfortable, the two women are also friends with the boyfriend’s best friend. If you’ve seen enough comedies like this one, then it’s easy to predict what’s going to happen, but the characters and the movie overall are so watchable and engaging that it’s an entertaining ride for most of the story.

The movie is told from the perspective of Los Angeles teenager April Krillholtz (played by Hannah Marks, who co-wrote the “Banana Split” screenplay with Joey Power), a brainy, neurotic type who’s a huge fan of “Harry Potter” and completely in love with Nicholas “Nick” Ellis (played by Dylan Sprouse), her high-school sweetheart of two years. A quick montage at the beginning of the film shows how April and Nick’s romance started and then began to deteriorate.

After having a platonic friendship, Nick and April decided that they wanted to start dating each other. But over time, their hot’n’heavy romance began to turn volatile, with a lot of arguing. (They even bickered during their prom date.)

And their relationship took a turn for the worst when they both got the news that they were accepted into universities on opposite coasts: Nick is staying on the West Coast to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, while April is headed to the East Coast for Boston University, on an academic scholarship. Apparently, April didn’t tell Nick that she had applied to a college in Boston, so when he finds out that she’s moving there, that’s the final nail in the coffin of their relationship, and they break up.

After graduating from high school, April is spending her summer working as a concessions employee at a movie theater. She’s the type of person who scolds a customer for ordering a hot dog because she thinks the customer is better off not letting “the smell of pig parts permeate the theater.” (In case it isn’t obvious, April doesn’t believe in eating meat.)

Before she moves away to go to Boston University, April is living at home with her divorced mother Susan (played by Jessica Hecht) and April’s foul-mouthed 13-year-old sister Agnes (played by Addison Riecke). Agnes has no sympathy for April’s breakup blues because Agnes makes it clear that she’s had a longtime crush on Nick and wants him for herself one day. Agnes also isn’t shy about describing her lust for Nick in explicit ways.

Agnes is the type of precocious teen who likes to talk about how much she knows about sex to shock or anger people (namely, her sister). The two siblings frequently get into immature, curse-filled shouting matches that’s kind of hilarious to watch. Their permissive mother Susan just wants to keep the peace while telling a little too much information about her own sex life. The dynamics between these three characters (who are usually only seen together around a dining room table) make for some of the best scenes in the movie. As the obnoxious and petulant Agnes, Riecke is a definite scene-stealer.

One night, April goes with two of her friends—Sally (played by Haley Ramm) and Molly (played by Meagan Kimberly Smith)—to a house party thrown by a fellow classmate. At the party, April gets very drunk because she knows, through social media, that Nick has already moved on to dating someone named Clara (played by Liana Liberato), a young woman who’s around the same age but who didn’t go to the same high school as April and Nick. In fact, April knows very little about Clara, and it bothers April that Nick was able to find a new girlfriend so quickly after their breakup.

But wouldn’t you know it, Clara is at the party too. Clara is not with Nick at the party, but she looks like she’s having fun and she’s being very social. April eyes Clara from a distance with jealousy and suspicion. And then, April is shocked to find out that Nick’s nerdy best friend Ben (played Luke Spencer Roberts) already knows Clara, because her parents are his godparents. (Stranger coincidences have happened in real life.) Ben has remained friendly with April after the breakup, and she understands that he’s still going to be Nick’s best friend. What she doesn’t like is for Ben to be friendly with Clara.

While an intoxicated April is hanging out by herself in a bedroom at the house, in walks Clara. The two have an awkward moment before Clara admits that she deliberately followed April into the room because she thought it was best that they finally meet. And it isn’t long before Clara and April begin hanging out at the party like long-lost friends.

They have such a good time together, that at the end of the night, Clara insists that April take her phone number. April asks, “What about Nick?” And Clara replies that Nick doesn’t have to know.

Meanwhile, when April tells Nick’s best friend Ben that Clara gave April her phone number, Ben (who senses that he’s going to be caught in the middle of this unusual arrangement) advises April not to become friends with Clara because it would be too weird and inappropriate. But, of course, there would be no “Banana Split” movie if April took that advice.

The first time that April and Clara hang out with each other, they go to a diner and have (you guessed it) a banana split together. The dessert can also be considered a metaphor for what their friendship turns out to be over the summer—sweet, kind of decadent and with a high probability of getting very messy.

The two women are almost opposites. College-bound April likes to plan ahead and has limited sexual experience. (She lost her virginity to Nick, who’s the only guy she’s had sex with so far.) Clara, who recently moved to Los Angeles from Fresno with no set plans, is more of a free-spirit, is more sexually experienced (Clara tells April that she’s had sex with 14 guys in her life so far), and is not as book-smart as April is.

The movie hints that their relationship could have turned sexual, when during one of their first hangouts together, Clara asks April if she wants to make out with her.  But April tells Clara that she’s not interested because she’s definitely heterosexual, and the subject is never brought up again.

“Banana Split” has a lot of montages of April and Clara doing things like going to the beach together, getting high together (mostly by smoking marijuana), and going out for meals together—not exactly the best way to keep their friendship a secret. Los Angeles is a big city, but there’s still a chance that other mutual friends of Nick and April (other than Ben) would find out.

During one of the first times that Clara and April spend time together, they end up talking about Nick’s sexual techniques, but that conversation quickly turns awkward when Clara finds out that Nick said things to April that he never said to her. April and Clara decide that the other big rule in their friendship (besides not telling Nick about their friendship) will be not to talk about Nick with each other.

To hide their friendship, they also agree not to post photos of themselves together on social media. And when April calls Clara, she shows up in Clara’s phone under the alias “Brad Pitt,” in reference to a joke that April made about Pitt’s movie “Fight Club.” (The reference to Pitt is kind of ironic, since Sprouse in “Banana Split” looks a lot like Pitt looked when he had long hair in the 1994 movies “Legends of the Fall” and “Interview With the Vampire.”)

The first time that April and Clara tell each other, “You’re my best friend,” is after they’ve checked into a motel together to get away from their routines and end up tripping on LSD together. And their relationship goes to the next friendship level when Clara, who has no family members in the area, asks April if she could meet her family. (You can imagine how dinner with April’s family goes, as long as bratty Agnes is there.)

Meanwhile, Ben knows all about April and Clara’s friendship. A great deal of what his character is all about is Ben nervously trying to keep the friendship a secret from Nick, while also scolding April and Clara about keeping it a secret from Nick.

Most of the characters in “Banana Split” are very defined in their personalities, but Nick is somewhat of a blank slate. It isn’t really made clear what his interests and goals are in life and what kind of family he has, so who he is as a person seems kind of vague throughout the movie.

What viewers do see of Nick is that he’s not your average pretty boy. For example, he has certain quirks, such as that he’s a fan of “Call Me Maybe” pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen and he shares April’s nerdy fandom of “Harry Potter.” But in other ways, he’s very much like a typical teenage guy who just wants to party.

“Banana Split” is the feature-film directorial debut of Benjamin Kasulke, who hits a lot of familiar beats that we’ve seen before in movies with female teenagers as the main characters. There’s the alternative-pop soundtrack (“Banana Split” features several songs written and performed by Annie Hart), the house party scene where one of the girls gets drunk and ends up vomiting, and the scene where a supposedly responsible character does something irresponsible just for the hell of it. (In “Banana Split,” Clara convinces April to leave her work shift two hours early just to hang out with her.)

But because the movie is so well-cast (Marks and Liberato give very convincing performances as opposite women who become fast friends), it makes these well-worn teen-comedy tropes enjoyable to watch. “Banana Split” is capably directed by Kasulke, and the movie benefits from the genuinely funny screenplay by Marks and Power.

And what about this story’s love triangle? Is Nick really over April? Are Nick and Clara falling in love, or is she just a fling before he leaves for college? And will he find out that April and Clara have become friends behind his back? The movie answers those questions, even though it’s pretty obvious that the real love story of “Banana Split” is the friendship that develops between April and Clara.

Vertical Entertainment released “Banana Split” on digital and VOD on March 27, 2020.