A surprisingly honest platonic rom-com.
Simply by the nature of its story, Banana Split offers an intriguing inversion of a common romantic-comedy trope: the love triangle of which one person must be kept out of the loop so that the other two might be able to keep up their charade. We all know the handful of story options that this trope gives us. It could be a guy and a girl and the other girl with whom the guy is cheating. It could be a guy and a girl and the girl whom the guy is dating but really shouldn’t be. It could be a girl and a guy and the seemingly platonic best friend with whom the girl would be better off (less common but more welcome are, of course, the stories that swap gender and sexuality to reflect the times more accurately).
With their story, screenwriters Hannah Marks and Joey Power give us something even more radical: the love triangle with the twist being that the ex-girlfriend and the current girlfriend of a hapless guy become really close friends over the course of their post-high-school summer. Then the screenwriters and director Benjamin Kasulke (his debut feature) plug this radical inversion of the expected and mundane into a raunchy sex comedy that mirrors those from within the past two decades that were so uniquely honest about characters in a transitional mode.
One does wonder, with the looming specter of college on the horizon for both of them, whether April (Marks) and Nick (Dylan Sprouse) would even have survived that transition anyway. In the rush of an opening scene, covering the entire span of their relationship from the initial flirtation to the messy breakup in five minutes flat, we learn that she has been accepted to a university on the other side of the country and he has been accepted at college just a few hours’ drive away. That spells doom already, and so, the two move on in their own way. For April, the method is understandable grief over the end of a two-year relationship, by way of moping and wishing for the gruesome fate of her beloved.
For Nick, the answer is literally to move on quite quickly. He starts dating a mysterious blonde woman whom April hates on principle when she asks Sally (Haley Ramm), one of her best friends, to create a fake account on a major social media platform, the better to stalk the new arm candy, Clara (Liana Liberato). When a party offers April the opportunity to see Clara in person, she goes. Why does she go? Do any of the rash decisions made post-breakup ever make sense? Whatever the case, something happens for both April and Clara that neither could have foreseen: They hit it off—really well, in fact. Soon, they are inseparable best friends.
This is obviously not what we expect, either. Kasulke, Marks and Power do an admirable job of embracing that unexpected quality, even as the story plays out (generally speaking, of course) as we do expect it to play out. April and Clara agree never to discuss Nick, which naturally puts a strain on their friendship when their mutual feelings for him run concurrently with their mutual desire to remain friends. Marks and Liberato are both clearly having a ball with this material, which also surprisingly favors a supporting cast that also includes Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts), a childhood friend of Nick’s who has since also become something of a confidante of April’s (and vice versa).
If you’re guessing, perhaps, that Ben takes on an even more significant role, as the young man is the first outsider to keep the secret of April and Clara’s friendship from Nick and then figures out a few things about his own romantic feelings, you have guessed quite well. The one who doesn’t quite escape the confines of what is very clearly a gimmick would be Nick, who just serves as a foil for each protagonist until the other shoe drops. That is understandable, though, and it contributes even more to the clever twisting of expectations going on in Banana Split, a funny bit of extended irreverence and a surprisingly honest platonic rom-com.