Banana Season, director Sanghoon Lee’s offbeat, homegrown indie, tells the story of two lovable losers down on their luck who find one another and learn something about themselves that they didn’t know before. Tale as old as time, right?
Here we have Sun (James Kyson), an amateur MMA fighter with an embarrassing losing streak and an estranged wife, and Peter (Pancho Moller) a dreamer who has taken to painting angel wings on water-towers when not jumping out of trees and attempting to fly with a set of cardboard, feather-coated flappers. The film announces that these two are meant for each other in its opening moments; Sun is on his back in the ring, Peter flat out on the sidewalk after a failed flight. Sun finds Peter, realizes he’s a friend from high school, and this odd-couple become best buds.
Working from his own script (writing credits are shared with John Chang and David W. Pedersen) director Lee infuses the first act with a breezy, improvisational tone. The charm of the leading men, particularly Pancho Moller’s Peter, paired with a whimsical score from Ali Heiwein and D.A. McCormick and Corey Lillard’s unassuming photography lend to the over all indie-sensibility. But once the plot gets rolling, the whole affair loses steam quickly and can’t quite catch up with its own best intentions.
There are some bold thematic machinations at play, such as musings on adult disillusionment, the state of modern male friendships, and masculinity in general. The odd-couple pairing of Sun (he’s a fighter, has an attractive swagger, and a smooth confidence) and Peter (he’s shy, sensitive, and artistic) is developed nicely, but characterization only goes so far here—these men speak in flashing neons, they say what the script wants to tell us at all times; the signposts of metaphor and theme feel as heavy handed as some of the punches thrown during the few MMA fights.
The film is a series of heart to hearts and quirky encounters, but the clumsy narrative stitching begins to wear thin after a half hour or so. And I suppose that’s partly due to a tonal discrepancy; Banana Season is oftentimes overbearingly twee, and then quickly shifts into hard-edged melodrama, never really finding a comfortable middle ground. And some threads seem unintentionally thin, such as Peter’s water-tower artwork and a sub-plot involving steroids at Sun’s gym. Peter’s reason behind wishing to fly is also left terribly vague, aside for some blatant speeches about birds, and freedom, and peace; intentional or not, it doesn’t do the film any favors.
However, I found merit in a certain heartbeat under the surface of this film—no matter how frustrating the movie becomes, with its wandering narrative and obvious statements, there’s an eager quality that feels akin to sincerity. And I applaud the work of the Chicago-grown production; there’s some real promise in certain moments flashing on screen, and I hope this team continues to work in our vibrant community.
The Chicago premiere of Banana Season is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N. State St) on Friday, October 5th at 8pm and Sunday, October 7th at 5pm. Director Sanghoon Lee will be present at both screenings.
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