It’s a classic love story. Boy meets Girl. Boy dates Girl. Boy and Girl break up. Girl gets really sad. Girl meets Boy’s new girlfriend. Girls hit it off and start a secret friendship behind Boy’s back. You know, your typical love story. Banana Split, a new film starring Hannah Marks (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Dylan Sprouse (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, his twin is on Riverdale), and Liana Liberato (If I Stay, Stuck In Love) gives us a refreshing twist on the teen romantic comedy, rooting it in female friendship instead of hetero teen romance.
The film opens with a montage of April (Marks) and Nick’s (Sprouse) relationship from beginning to end, full of makeups and petty arguments. It’s effective and sets the tone for the rest of the film, fast, smart and with a killer soundtrack. April then starts to live the summer before college without Nick, working at a movie theater with Jacob (MCU’s Spiderman’s Far From Home, criminally underused in this role) and partying to try to ease the pain. At one said party she meets Nick’s new love, Clara (Liberato). They stare each other down, share a few laughs and decide to be friends. As their friendship progresses, it’s clear that they genuinely like each other and try to respect one another’s boundaries, but the human psyche is complicated and jealousy creeps in. As April tries to juggle her complex feelings for both her ex and her new best friend, she realizes even the best intentions don’t always play out the way we want them to.
The real stars of the show are Marks and Liberato, their chemistry and relationship natural and based in reality. Throwing away the troupe that women must be rivals, their relationship is endearing and exciting to watch. You want to hang out with them, make fun of boys and blast music from the car stereo. Very rarely do we see such fleshed-out depictions of the teen girl.
Director Benjamin Kasulke, who has worked on indie comedies like Safety Not Guaranteed and Laggies, manages to keep the film from being too trite or sentimental, keeping the comedy at the forefront. Marks and fellow screenwriter Joey Power’s dialogue is natural and quippy, steering away from teen melodrama into a nuanced and engaging story. You root for April and Clara, but also completely understand their feelings of jealousy. Normally women are depicted as sexual rivals. Very rarely do we see a story centered on the very real concept of liking an ex’s partner. Though this is not their first writing venture, Marks and Power definitely have a long and exciting career ahead of them.
The biggest thing working against Banana Split, besides the severely unused Jacob Batalon, is its similarity to Easy A and last year’s breakout Booksmart. Tonally, it’s a wicked smart female-driven comedy that is being released at a time when we are (fortunately) getting more and more of that variety of film. As long filmmakers keep twisting the genre with original stories and variations, I’m 100% in.