When April (Hannah Marks) sees Clara (Liana Liberato), the new girlfriend of her ex Nick (Dylan Sprouse), at a party one evening, she feels sick. She hasn’t gotten over him, and she is prepared to do anything to confront her usurper: fight, scream, cry.
Then she talks to her. Just talks. And it turns out, Clara is a pretty great human being. They have fun together, and arrange to meet up again. Soon, they have become fully-fledged best friends (they even take their contraceptive pills at the same time!). Everything is rosy between the two, until the spectre of jealousy and resentment about the boy they have in common starts to rear its head once more.
It’s a great idea. One of the oldest and most sexist of cinematic tropes – two women fighting over a man – is turned on its head. One of the pleasures of Banana Split is that the friendship between April and Clara is treated as a platonic love affair. There’s a meeting the family scene. There a ‘you love me?’ scene. They have an undeniable chemistry. There’s far more time dedicated to exploring the relationship the two girls have with each other than there is of either of their relationships with Nick.
The problem, however, is that despite all the time we spend with April and Clara, we hardly get to know them. As opposed to some of the great movies about high school female friendships that have been released in the last few years – Lady Bird, Booksmart, The Edge Of Seventeen – the characters of the two leads remain resolutely flat. Their conversations are almost entirely about sex and past relationships and Nick (despite the rule they make that talking about him is off limits). The only other information we get is that April can’t drive yet, and Clara made her a nice meal once. It’s not exactly enough to rate our emotional investment. When you add in the fact that in the film’s final act, it starts to succumb to some of the tropes it set out to disprove, it all starts to look a lot less ground-breaking.
Whilst it may fail in its loftier aspirations, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with Banana Split. It looks gorgeous, shot in glowy Los Angeles sunlight and taking place on the beach, in candy-coloured bowling alleys and diners. Though there are a few too many montages, the soundtrack is crammed with upbeat, catchy songs. The screenplay – co-written by co-lead Hannah Marks – is full of funny lines; my favourite is when April refuses to sell a hotdog to a customer at the movie theatre where she works because, ‘the smell of your pig parts is going to ruin the cinematic experience for everyone’. Reader, I cheered.
Although Banana Split has plenty of redeeming features, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that it wastes the chance to fully explore a potentially revolutionary concept.
Banana Split is available on digital download in the UK on 8 June 2020