The first six minutes of Banana Split take us through the entire course of a relationship. April (Hannah Marks) and Nick (Dylan Sprouse) are teenage friends who decide to be “not friends,” i.e. much more than friends. They have fun, sleep together, apply to different colleges, bicker and fight, then eventually break up right after prom. From there, the movie shifts gears in a most interesting way, establishing itself as a teen comedy that combines the emotional honesty of an '80s John Hughes flick with a very modern social media-influenced sensibility.
After the romance ends, Nick begins dating Clara (Novitiate's Liana Liberato), a perky blonde new-girl-in-town. April bumps into her at a party one night and, against all odds, they develop a rapport. Then the two begin hanging out. There are some ground rules, the first of which is that they don't tell Nick they've become pals. For a while, things are great, as Clara brings the more introverted April out of her shell. But reality eventually sets in. Try as they might to separate him from their friendship, Nick is still part of both their lives, and since April has never gotten over him, a bit of jealousy threatens to destroy what she's found with Clara.
Banana Split was co-written by Marks and Joey Power. The story transcends the “two girls in love with the same guy” trope by focusing on the value of friendship. Even though the April/Nick relationship is compressed into six minutes at the top, you can tell that she gets something out of being with Clara that she never got from being with him. Free of the obligation to fulfill the “good girlfriend” role, she's able to simply be herself – and to be accepted for who she is. This isn't a movie about who gets Nick at the end, it's about how two unlikely friends change each other's lives.
Marks and Liberato have great chemistry together. The way they trade sarcastic jabs or feed off one another's energy is often funny. Although the characters themselves are different personality types, the actresses convincingly find the commonality between them. Banana Split has a lot of off-color humor, profanity, and substance use, yet those are the primary things that draw these young women together. If you've ever had a friend you could completely cut loose with, then you can understand the dynamic here.
Dylan Sprouse does strong supporting work as Nick. For the longest time, we view the character as something of a narcissist. He seeks to make himself happy without really considering the feelings of others. In the third act, though, he has a conversation with April that suggests he has more going on inside than we realize. Also providing backup are two scene stealers. Luke Spencer Roberts is hilarious as Ben, a mutual friend of both April and Nick who tries not to take sides, yet gets stuck in the middle anyway. Addison Riecke (formerly of Nickelodeon's The Thundermans) earns big laughs as April's vulgar-beyond-her-years little sister Agnes.
Banana Split is at its best when focused on adolescent issues. A couple of fantasy/dream sequences work less well and feel out of place with the overall tone. When the movie is on, though, it delivers something truly special. Nick might be the unintentional catalyst for April and Clara meeting, but he's secondary. The heartfelt look at two teen girls realizing they're kindred spirits is what will stick with you.
out of four
Banana Split is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug and alcohol use -- all involving teens. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.