Band Aid is a movie about a couple named Anna and Ben. They’re in their 30s. He was an artist, now he’s an unemployed / freelance graphic designer. She was a writer whose book deal fell apart, and now she’s an Uber driver. The two appear to be still devoted to each other, but they are unhappily married. They fight constantly. When they’re not fighting, they’re high. They’re stalled in life, and in their relationship.
The disaster Anna and Ben inhabit isn’t a mystery, and they’re working on it. But their therapist moves to Canada, so what are you going to do? Well, Anna and Ben decide to start a band that will play songs based on their fights. If they’re singing, they’re not fighting. Thus is born the alt-grief family-rock band, The Dirty Dishes (think Danielson Family, but with more sadness and fewer members).
Adam Pally and Zoe Lister-Jones comprise the central couple in Band Aid and the lead guitars and vocals in the Dirty Dishes. On drums, they’re joined by their sex-addicted neighbor Dave (played Fred Armisen, America’s favorite quirky drummer). They rehears in their garage, play some open mics, and appear to be having fun.
These are the matters of the first half of Band Aid. Those first 45 minutes are funny, poignant, creative. Ben and Anna write clever songs that find an audience (the Dirty Dishes would be a smash IRL), and in finding their audience, they also find each other, again. Their relationship is rekindled, their friendship and sex life bloom once more, and its quite lovely. Bonus points for Fred Armisen’s welcome weirdo with heart appearance.
If this was what Band Aid endeavored to be, a funny and touching indie comedy with great performances and fresh talent, then Band Aid would be worth it, and a success.
But Band Aid is so much more.
What could have been a satisfying, if familiar comedy of a marriage on the rocks, instead becomes an introspective, complex character motivated drama. Zoe Lister-Jones, who in addition to starring in the film also wrote, directed and produced it, refuses to let Anna and Ben retreat from the reality of their circumstances into their musical flight of fancy. Both of these people are deeply flawed, and Lister-Jones pulls the rug from under their newfound fun, forcing them to expose raw and painful grief. The couple shared a loss that they’ve never processed, and have for years been afraid of opening old wounds for fear they might create fresh ones.
Anna and Ben’s constant fighting is a mask for grief, and that internal suffering is the real obsession of Lister-Jones’ debut film. In the final act of the film, Lister-Jones rotates her story from how Anna and Ben deal with their loss into a rumination on how men and women relate and what, fundamentally, comprises the emotional differences between the sexes. Is there an inate difference that accounts for the emotional gap between a man and a woman? Why is Ben infantile and distracted? Why is Anna emotionally explosive? Can these difference be overcome, and if so, should they?
These are some of the questions that Band Aid asks, and there are many more. Many of these questions are raised in fight-songs, sometimes created in impromptu writing sessions, and while I listened to Anna and Ben fight-sing their way through songs about lies, pies, and thighs, I was surprised by how fresh these long-ruminated marital problems felt in Lister-Jones hands.
I imagine that any cohabitating couple with more than a few years on their lease will recognize at least a part of their own relationship in Band Aid, a testament to Lister-Jones skillful writing, and her and Adam Pally’s performances. Too many couples will connect to the pain of a failed pregnancy, and the lasting emotional and relational consequences that such an occurrence creates. Band Aid navigates these spaces with grace and humor and unflinching intensity.