When you think about it, there are few age groups less represented in Hollywood than the teenager. Sure, teen movies have been multiplex fodder for decades. But for every Superbad (penned by Seth Rogen as a kid during recess) or Boyz n the Hood (the script that got John Singleton into film school), there are dozens more ‘coming-of-age’ screenplays that are knocked out by crusty old dudes in their garden shed. If you want to tell stories about young people, why not let them do the telling? Banana Split, written by Hannah Marks when she was just 19, is the perfect example.
Now 27, Marks also acts in this feelgood Gen Z romcom. She plays April, who struggles to cope with a sudden break-up. Set during the aimless summer between high school and college, the story centres on an unexpected friendship which April strikes up with an unlikely candidate – new girl Clara (Liana Liberato), who just so happens to be dating April’s ex, Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Unusually for competing lovers, they hit it off after meeting at a party and soon become inseparable. Desperate to continue as mates despite their awkward situation, the pair decide to hang out in secret – and keep Nick in the dark.
It’s not a new set-up (a love triangle featuring two women and a man), but what’s fresh about this quirky duo is how they control their destiny, not the bloke. Too often in romantic comedies will the plot twist itself in knots as we wait for the handsome rogue to commit (Bridget Jones’s Diary), or the geeky diamond in the rough to reveal himself (Clueless). In Banana Split, Nick’s actions are mostly irrelevant. He doesn’t break up with April (it’s mutual), and he’s not responsible for any tiffs between the two girls that occur along the way. Similarly to last year’s rip-roaring Booksmart, the focus here is on female friendship, not who’s banging who.
Elsewhere, Marks does a good job of pushing her characters beyond the usual clichés. The temptation to write April as the boilerplate, spiky, indie kid is avoided; while smily Clara bears more than a resemblance to the airhead mean girls of Heathers and, well, Mean Girls, but ultimately surpasses those stereotypes. As an added bonus, Liberato – whose recent run (check out To The Stars if you like this) has made her one to watch – shares such natural chemistry with Marks that even the slightly contrived plot is overcome.
If you’re looking for a quick hit of wholesome comedy to remind you why life is still worth living (even in these hellish times), then Banana Split is great. But as a calling card for its writer-star, it’s even better. Marks is one of the most exciting young filmmakers out there – and is set to solo-direct her first feature next year. If Mark, Mary & Some Other People is anything like her latest, it’ll be a nuanced character study told from the heart – and, unusually for Marks’ favoured genre, by those who know what they’re talking about.
- Director: Benjamin Kasulke
- Starring: Hannah Marks, Liana Liberato, Dylan Sprouse
- Release date: June 8 (Digital)