The world needs a lot of things right now, and one of them just happens to be easygoing entertainment. So be grateful for “Banana Split,” a charming teen romance that fits neatly into the era of “Booksmart” but also manages to stand solidly on its own.
Cowriter Hannah Marks (“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”) also stars as April, a high-school senior in a long-term relationship with dim hottie Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Marks, cowriter Joey Power and director Benjamin Kasulke spend about five minutes introducing, capturing and ending this relationship, in a quick but clever montage that both fills us in and keeps us at a distance.
That detachment does leave a nagging hole in the story, because we never have the chance to become invested in this couple. But it’s also a purposeful choice: It soon becomes clear that the filmmakers have something other than romance in mind.
April is going to Boston for college, and Nick is staying in California, so their breakup was inevitable. But while she sits at home nursing her broken heart, he’s already found a new girlfriend in Clara (Liana Liberato, Hulu’s “Light as a Feather”). Naturally, the two girls have checked each other out on social media, and Clara quickly assumes the role of nemesis in April’s mind.
So April is stunned when they finally meet at a party, and the funny, impulsive Clara turns out to be her soul mate. Before long, they’re sneaking around behind Nick’s back to build a BFF connection that’s made for movies: drunken bowling, acid-laced road trips, popcorn-sharing movie nights.
As April keeps clarifying in amusing fashion, the relationship is purely platonic. But their bond also runs a lot deeper than the one either girl has shared with Nick.
Both Marks and Sprouse are in their late twenties, and it’ll take some suspension of disbelief to buy them as teens. It also doesn’t help that Sprouse either wasn’t given or wasn’t able to find anything interesting in the beautiful but utterly basic Nick. (Unfair as it is, some may have a hard time avoiding comparisons to his twin brother Cole, who’s perfected the emo high school crush on “Riverdale.”)
The supporting cast — including Addison Riecke as April’s foul-mouthed tween sister and Jessica Hecht as her deadpan mom — add a bit of depth but clearly exist, like everyone else, to serve our two heroines. Luke Spencer Roberts (“Fear the Walking Dead”) also suffers from an underwritten role as Nick’s best friend and the obligatory quirky fourth wheel.
That said, Marks and Liberato are a delight, equally appealing on their own and total #FriendshipGoals together. The two are close in real life and the strength of their chemistry is, ultimately, what makes the movie so special.
Director Kasulke has been a sought-after cinematographer for years, having worked on high-profile indies from Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”), Guy Maddin (“Brand Upon the Brain!”), and Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg (“Nights and Weekends”) among others. His experience and confidence are evident; no one would peg this as his directorial debut.
DP Darin Morgan keeps things looking polished on a limited budget, while he and Kasulke — and editor Brendan Walsh (“Between Two Ferns: The Movie”) — ably capture the script’s wry sensibility, tweaking familiar setups like fast-paced montages, packed house parties, and awkward family dinners. These scenes are deftly aided by music supervisor Marissa Gallien, whose feminist soundtrack expands to include Annie Hart’s synth-pop score, Brit punk from X-Ray Spex and Junglepussy’s pivotally unapologetic hip-hop.
Marks, who’s got several directorial gigs lined up, is definitely one to watch, and she and Power have filled their screenplay with shrewdly relatable moments. Plenty of viewers are likely to nod when April googles “anxiety vs actual heart attack,” while this critic was fully onboard from the moment she righteously refuses to serve a customer a hot dog at her movie theater concession job: He can have a soda and popcorn, or nothing. Moviegoing may not be a communal experience at the moment, but you’ve got one more worthwhile title to add to your streaming list. (Judgment-free snacks optional.)