I don’t remember exactly when I became a fan of Zoe Lister-Jones, but it happened at some point, because now I follow her on Instagram. Last July, she posted a headline that she’d be making her directorial debut with Band Aid, a feature she also wrote and would produce and star in.
By January, that little feature was not only shot and picture locked, but it enjoyed a premiere at Sundance. In May, it screened as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, where I was able to catch it during a week jam-packed with great films.
In a matter of months, I’d seen a film go from announcement to festivals and then to theaters. A rapid timeline by anyone’s standards! And something about this one – an original script by an already successful actress – made it particularly intriguing. This is creating, this is making art, making something from nothing.
It’s not a dig against it to say the movie isn’t anything monumental. Nothing explodes, there’s no big special effects. Instead, it’s a modern, original relationship comedy, one that finds its stride in the chemistry between Lister-Jones and Adam Pally as a married couple on the rocks who decide to turn their fights into songs for their new band.
Though a few scenes feel a bit too on the nose (including the one where Anna (Lister-Jones) just says, “We should turn our fights into songs” in order to keep the plot moving), overall it’s a smart contemporary take on long-term relationships and interpersonal connections in an age where trends change by the tweet and relationships live and die on a text message.
Anna and Ben have been married for a minute, and their life has settled into an understandable predictability, with shades of arrested development. She’s an Uber driver, he’s a designer who works from home (so he doesn’t always need to wear pants). Their friends are all having kids, while they’re getting stoned at those kids’ birthday parties. Freedom, sure; but it’s also wearing on them, as they watch their crew grow up and move on around them.
Of course, there’s something more significant going on between these two, and its in this storyline where the very funny film finds its humanity. I won’t spoil it for your here, but suffice it to say this isn’t just two thirty-somethings delaying adulthood and channeling their petty arguments about the dishes into rock songs.
Although they do that, too.
She picks up a bass, he grabs a guitar and they loop in their kooky neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen, ever the scene stealer) as their drummer. Voila, a garage band! The fights prove to be fun fodder for the new group, and they put together enough angry rock to claim a spot at an open mic night. Better than therapy, soon Ben and Anna are happier than either can remember being in ages.
But that unspoken truth is still just under the surface of their relationship, and Lister-Jones flexes her screenwriting muscles deftly as it pokes its head out again in the third act. No power ballad or rock anthem can drown out the reality of this couple’s real-life struggles. They fight through this one, finally getting to the core of their problems (and it’s not dishes). And this time, it’s not with guitars in their hands.
Funny and sharp, Band Aid is great when Ben and Anna are belting out their grievances; the music (also written by the very talented Lister-Jones) hits the mark quite well (as well it should, given the premise). But where the movie really clicks is in between rehearsals, when Anna and Ben leave the petty fights and the songs they write about them on the stage and do the hard work of saving their marriage, of being vulnerable and real. That’s where Lister-Jones has made a movie with an honesty and personality that makes it a welcome, if quiet, addition to an otherwise boisterous, noisy summer movie season.
BAND AID – dir Zoe Lister-Jones. Written by Zoe Lister-Jones. Starring Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen. Opens theatrically Friday, June 2; available wide on June 9. Official Site
Passes the Bechdel Test: Yes
Passes the DuVernay Test: No