SIFF 2019: Banana Split

In the shadow of critically acclaimed films like Eighth Grade and Lady Bird, coming of age stories have become simultaneously reinvigorated and had a skeptical lid placed on the hormonal jumping beam that are coming of age stories. The all too relatable stories of first love, first love lost, the deep unknowable rage that ate us all from the inside until we were husks of people starving for the slightest bit of familiarity in the world, and acne. All those big adolescent milestones told time and again since Rebel without a Cause. Now actress Hannah Marks (with Joey Power) presents her own example of the high school graduate experience in Banana Split, reconciling the hard latch about to shatter all her direct connections while exploring female friendships in the face of male intrusion.

Under the steady tutelage of cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke (Safety Not Guaranteed, Humpday) in his feature debut, Banana Split follows April (Hannah Marks) as she splits from her first relationship with her stoner Adonis, Nick (Dylan Sprouse, post-Disney) and finds an emerging friendship with his new girlfriend Clara (Liana Liberato), balancing between respecting their budding (or rebound?) relationship and growing trust amid jealousy-ridden circumstances.  Kasulke must be an UN peacekeeper for harnessing an occasionally whacky, inherently messy story of young adults face planting into adulthood with mature decisions only recently breached in our digital age. Hannah Marks launches through her final days before college shapes her into a maladjusted adults–or wrecks her in the process–and her awareness to dive into the emotional insecurity of the times, which often hangs long into adulthood if it ever goes away, takes her beyond teen girl drama into women experiencing the complexities of love for the first time.  Liberato and Sprouse let her shine, more props in April’s Summer of 69 than their own developing people. Nick’s best friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) is a flabbergasted accomplice on all sides who finds his superiority is less inflapable than he believed. Roberts plays the sidekick with standout flash bridging the funny hat wearing best friend as someone seething with the social envy of adolescence. The standout comedic mastermind comes from April’s little sister Agnes (Addison Riecke, The Beguiled) who ditched her Disney primness to be a visceral 13-year-old beyond her age: a firecracker temper edging toward hormonal meltdown and soap-in-mouth cleaning routines.  Riecke sparks the movie with another generation of preteen adults drowning in Instagram models and Kardashian antics ready to take over the mosh pit called puberty.

Banana Split falls into cliches the Bechdel test would vomit on; haven’t we touched on physical violence from emotional turmoil for too many years; don’t we know how to offend people in a far more psychological fashion than jealous dudes punching and slurpee showers?  The female buddy comedy has gained notoriety post-Bridesmaids, and with Booksmart and Never Goin Back, among others, dancing around as cinematic competitors, Banana Split adds a unique touch in their production with an unabashed cast who bounces off each other like childhood friends (Liberato and Marks actually are, according to the director).  The film should release later this year.

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