'Banana Split' film review: Sharp comedy upends the unwritten rules for dating, friendship
A tired trope of every teen flick is the girl loathing her ex-boyfriend's current girlfriend. The refreshing and hilarious comedy "Banana Split" (screening during the 45th Seattle International Film Festival) upends that expectation and dares to ask "what if they became kindred spirits?"
In short: Two recent high school grads become besties during their last carefree summer before college - despite the fact that Clara (Liana Liberato) is dating April's (Hannah Marks) ex-boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse).
The fun of “Split” is watching April and Clara become intimately close friends - all the while skirting the one subject they both are all too aware of, but choose to ignore: specifically Nick. A lesser movie would have had both girls pretend to not know what they both know - or somehow hide the truth from them entirely (like some stupid sitcom) -- but "Split" has them fully aware of each other before their first meeting.
Having Clara know who April is (and vice versa) upfront allows "Split" to become something much more fulfilling - a beautiful, if oddly socially forbidden, relationship. The small, unspoken pangs they share - like when April sees Insta-pics of Nick cuddling with Clara or Clara noticing the name of "Nick and April's dating" playlist - are little, all too-familiar emotional daggers when it comes to the fresh wounds of being dumped. And throwing Nick in the middle of April and Clara injects a totally unexpected dynamic: like the two new friends are "cheating" on Nick. "Will he find out" becomes the wedge that threatens to upend an actually sweet friendship.
The undercurrent throughout "Split" is the one last summer between graduation and college starts -- and the film elegantly grasps the conflicted anticipation of the what's next with the bittersweet longing to grasp onto what's always been there. And despite the fact that Clara suddenly swoops into their lives, the movie really makes the case that this relationship is the one worth cheering for. It's a fun upending of expectations to internally scream "forget the boy - this friendship is the love you two truly deserve!"
For as vital as Nick is to the plot, he's a pretty thin character. Essentially, he's just an attractive and affable guy with great hair. Nick doesn't need the main character or given some ridiculous backstory - but for a story where April is hung up on Clara's current man, "Split" just needed to better justify why both cling to him so much. It's reduced to "April dated him for two years and Clara is dating him now" - which, taken in the context of what's important to an 18-year-old, seems world defining, however, from a straightforward storytelling perspective, better defining what Nick mean to April and Clara respectively could have improved their characters.
Final verdict: "Split" exists in an ephemeral and carefree space before genuine responsibility and adulting. It's best when it allows April and Clara's friendship blossom -- and as they grapple with the dating weirdness that connects the two girls.
"Banana Split" screens during SIFF 2019. This coming-of-age comedy is unrated and has a running time of 96 minutes.