In his directorial debut, Benjamin Kasulke presents Banana Split staring Hannah Marks as April, a recent high school graduate living her last summer in Los Angeles before moving to Boston for college. This time between high school and college is tough but pivotal as she prepares to leave her family, friends, and home for a new world of independence and responsibility. It’s a time meant for growth as she transitions into adulthood, but this process of progress is halted as she discovers that her long-term ex-boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse) has found a new love in Clara (Liana Liberato). Infuriated, April descends into envious madness and sadness, seeking to learn more about Clara instead of focusing on her time at home before moving on.
The coming-of-age genre puts youth on the screen, and it’s not always flattering. The films often sympathize with the difficult, yet current experiences of heartbreak and growing up in high school or college. For adults, coming-of-age films can bring them back to the glory days or keep them appreciative of their current circumstances. Films like The Edge of Seventeen and Perks of Being a Wallflower are beloved indies because they’re genuine stories about growing up whereas films like Paper Towns don’t hit because they aren’t as visceral or relatable to many. The key to a good coming-of-age film is authenticity. Banana Split, though, falls somewhere in the middle as it’s a mixed bag of memorable, candid moments and insincere emotional ones.
As April’s sadness spirals, she accidentally befriends Clara at a house party where the two hilariously bond by drunkenly singing and dancing together. Regardless of April’s need to move on from Nick, eventually, April and Clara form an unusual friendship behind Nick’s back, developing a loving bond that transcends their love lives. Although their friendship hits some speed bumps when Nick becomes more involved, April and Hannah’s perfect fit showcases that love and friendship can eclipse romance.
Marks and Liberato’s incredible chemistry results in many hilarious moments between the two and works to create a feeling like they’ve been best friends for years. They’re the film’s strongest element as they embody their characters and perform extremely well together. Marks, who also produced and co-wrote, anchors the film with her dynamic, realistic performance immersed in candid heartbreak and Aubrey Plaza-esque deadpan. Furthermore, she brilliantly displays genuine sadness that exudes from the screen to great effect. Her performance beautifully stands out as familiar and powerful among other recent coming-of-age films.
The rest of the cast, however, including Liberato, inconsistently bounce through authenticity and insincerity. While Liberato shows chemistry with Marks, there are many moments where her character feels fake and fictitious. The character doesn’t exude the same familiarity or candor that April does, and part of that is because there are many moments throughout the film that don’t mirror the complexities of real life. Similarly, Sprouse’s character Nick radiates generic douchey-boyfriend vibes without any seemingly real nuance or distinction. When it comes time for Nick to be lighthearted and charismatic, Sprouse doesn’t channel the inner boyish charm he once had leaving the film’s intent unfulfilled.
Despite these issues, Kasulke brings together a solid directorial debut. Banana Split has many hilarious moments grounded in heartbreaking pain and a hilarious friendship but it doesn’t totally overcome its moments steeped in unfamiliarity and insincerity. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but this film’s main highlight is Marks’ nuanced and deadpan performance. The remainder doesn’t quite capture the timelessness, authenticity, and relatability of true coming-of-age films.