Back in 2006, 10-year-old Liana Liberato and her 13-year-old best friend Hannah Marks were profiled in The New York Times Magazine article “Hollywood Elementary” about pre-teens struggling to make it in show business. Ten years later, each with a solid resume under their belt, Marks cast Liberato in her directorial debut, the short film Two Dollar Bill. Fast-forward another four years, and the long-time besties are together again in Banana Split, which, if the powers of reason and common sense have any say, will catapult both women into the Hollywood stratosphere.

Co-written by Marks and Joey Power and directed by long-time cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, the film has already won Best Film at the 2019 Vail Film Festival and a Special Jury Prize at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, and for good reason. In the vein of gems like 2010’s Easy A, 2016’s Edge of Seventeen, and last year’s Booksmart, it’s a sharp and intelligent teen flick that avoids the age-old tropes that have dominated the genre, proving yet again that the abandonment of cookie-cutter plots and stock characters can result in something far more entertaining and memorable.

Marks is April, a down-to-earth high-schooler who one day wakes up to find that her friend-who’s-a-boy is now something more. She and Nick (Dylan Sprouse) go out for the better part of two years (which is given a brilliant thirty-second montage treatment) before then breaking up on graduation day—due in no small part to the fact that she’s heading to BU, and he’s off to UCSD.

He then starts seeing Clara (Liberato), a recent transplant who looks like a picture-perfect cross between Taylor Swift and Debby Ryan. Any feelings of jealousy on April’s part, though, are quickly jettisoned when the two bond over shots, rap music, and an porcelain-side episode at a house party. They agree to a few common-sense rules (“Don’t talk about Nick” and “Don’t tell Nick” chief among them), as their friendship blossoms over the course of the summer.

A must-see for anyone (particularly women) who miss their sheltered-in-place besties, Banana Split is quintessential Facebook Watch Party material, forgoing standard love triangle garbage and instead offering a hard-R, Bechdel-approved bit of inventiveness that is as intelligent as it is hilarious (and it’s both). Marks and Liberato, both a decade past their high school years, can still pull off teen angst, and the chemistry resulting from their almost fifteen-year friendship elevates the film even further.

Though COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the release of Hollywood films (in a Coronavirus-free world, we would have watched A Quiet Place Part II last weekend and the live-action Mulan remake this weekend), it’s opened the door to a world of lower-budget, outside-the-mainstream films that would have gone largely unnoticed otherwise. The excellent Banana Split is now near the top of that list, and even if you didn’t have anything to do otherwise, it’s still well-worth its economical 90 minutes. This is no shrug-worthy, eh-what-the-heck way of passing time until movie theaters reopen. Banana Split is a refreshing, funny, and touching escape from current events that reminds you of everything that’s great about movies.


4.5/5 stars