The biggest benefit film festival season has is that most are able to showcase smaller films that would unfortunately otherwise go unnoticed to the bigger film community. It is a chance for indie films to get their moment in the limelight and hopefully secure distribution. Case in point, we have Hannah Marks’ newest film Banana Split, screening at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. An indie coming-of-age film about teenage romance is nothing new to the film industry but there is something so unique about Banana Split. Much like Love, Simon earlier in the year, this film manages to take common genre tropes and put a new spin on it, creating a heartfelt and hilarious teen-drama that hopefully everyone will be able to see.
High school classmates April, Nick, and Ben are a close circle of friends up until the summer before college when April and Nick, who have been dating for two years, suddenly break up. As Ben struggles to maintain both friendships, he introduces his childhood friend Clara who begins to date Nick and secretly becomes best friends with April. Now Ben is stuck in the middle, hanging out with the two girls behind his best friend’s back. Plus, Nick and April still have feelings for each other. Now everyone has secrets and everyone feels like the third wheel. The group’s dynamic gets very complicated as they try to navigate their last few weeks together before leaving town.
It is in the synopsis above where you can see how this film becomes so unique. Instead of putting the major focus on the romances between Nick (Dylan Sprouse) and April (Hannah Marks) or Nick and Clara (Liana Liberato), Banana Split instead opts to zero in on April and Clara’s budding friendship. While yes the love-triangle dynamic is something previously seen in other features, Banana Split shows what beauty can come out of bad moments in your life. Like so many of the great on-screen relationships, April and Clara meet on the dance floor in, both inebriated from free-flowing tequila at the house party they first meet each other at and find comfort in each other’s company.
Despite only knowing each other for a few hours, a friendship immediately sparks, even with April saying to Clara “I really wanted a reason to give you a black eye.” Common movie logic would have immediately placed April in the archetype of the jealous ex, doing everything she can do ruin Nick and Clara’s romance. In this instance however, the pair decide to not let Nick stand in the way of what they have discovered, developing a meaningful and complex friendship where each grow thanks to the other. Marks and her co-writer Joey Power expertly develop two characters who clearly should be at each other’s throats.
That is what makes this film so fun and light. Marks and Power rework tropes of the rom-com into something entirely different, making Nick the “third wheel” always looming over Clara and April’s friendship and the main obstruction to their happiness. And each actor plays off of this so nicely. Hannah Marks is superb as the love-struck but depressed April. In almost every scene she is in, Marks is such a delight to watch. Exhibiting earnest emotions while still being the funniest character in the film, Marks proves that she is one of Hollywood’s newest rising stars. Liana Liberato is equally great as Clara, becoming the perfect foil for April. Much like a new man in her life, Clara is able to bring out a new side of April, allowing her to grow as a person while still trying to help her move on from Nick. She is this carefree spirit that April desperately needed so that she could break her mold.
Dylan Sprouse only recently made his return to acting following a break to attend University but Banana Split proves he has not missed a beat. As Nick, Sprouse plays the outsider boyfriend so well as he truly does not know that his ex and current fling are almost always together. Sprouse is genuine, funny and able to flex previously unseen dramatic muscle in the film. Finally, Luke Spencer Roberts acts as the film’s main source of comic relief as well as the voice of reason, Ben. He is truly caught in the middle of everything due to having a relationship with each character. Roberts is able to convey confusion and hilarity and it makes for a surprisingly great performance.
Banana Split is yet another entry to 2018’s list of great rom-com features. In a year with Love, Simon and Crazy Rich Asians, Banana Split manages to differentiate itself from the genre’s ordinary tropes and become something much more meaningful. Director Benjamin Kasulke, as well as Marks and Power, have crafted a feature that will both make you laugh and tug on your heartstrings. The message of friendship will ring true with audiences as we see Clara and April make something beautiful out of a situation that should have led both down a different path. With great music, superb performances and beautiful cinematography, Banana Split is one of the most relatable and fun films of the year.
Rating – 8/10
Banana Spli” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play once more at the L.A. Film Fest on September 25th at 9 pm at the Arclight Culver City.