Band Aid is yet another one of those indie films whose mildly unconventional execution masks disappointing convention at its core. There’s some novelty to its premise: Frequently bickering married couple Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones, who is also the film’s writer, producer and director) and Ben (Adam Pally) decide to turn their arguments into songs as well as to start their own band to perform them (such tensions led Fleetwood Mac, for instance, to create their classic Rumours, after all). Lister-Jones’s improvisatory approach to directing individual scenes may be familiar from the comedies of Judd Apatow and Joe Swanberg, but the two stars have likable, if sometimes prickly, chemistry together, and Lister-Jones at least doesn’t seem to have Apatow’s perpetual problem of letting scenes built on improv go on too long. The songs they perform aren’t too shabby, either, with Lister-Jones and co-songwriter Kyle Forester coming up with tunes that are infectious without sounding too slick, always feeling like the work of amateurs, albeit ingratiatingly so.
Still, Band Aid never quite adds up to more than the sum of its fleeting charms. Anna and Ben, for one thing, are familiar types: both 30-something underachievers whose frustrations toward their own personal failures are as much a driving force for their behavior toward each other as any interpersonal tensions. Ben once had aspirations of being a serious visual artist, but now he lounges around at home, ostensibly freelancing as a graphic designer, but putting more effort in procrastinating than in finishing the company logos he’s been commissioned to design. As for Anna, she currently moonlights as an Uber driver, still dealing with the disappointment from a “failed book deal” that Ben is sometimes too quick to remind her about during arguments.
There’s a deeper reason for Anna’s malaise, though, that eventually fuels the more drama-heavy third act of Band Aid in a way that is ultimately disappointing. It’s bad enough that a particular trauma from her past is revealed midway through as a gimmicky “gotcha” twist—that I won’t spoil here, although it’s not too difficult to guess what it is during a brief exchange Anna and Ben share within the film’s first 10 minutes, after Ben has talked with his mother over the phone in their car—but the turn reveals the creaky plot machinery underneath, complete with an entire speech delivered by Ben’s mother (Susie Essman) which elaborates at great length on all the battle-of-the-sexes themes that had been made so admirably subtle beforehand. Worse than betraying the film’s initial life-like textures for predictable screenwriting convention, however, the twist suggests a strangely conservative view of femininity and marriage—one in which childbearing is viewed as the main marker of fulfillment in a woman’s life—that goes against its earlier gestures toward progressivism.
Even when it disappoints, though, Band Aid never fully discards its initial loose-limbed charisma. Among its pleasures is an amusing scene-stealing supporting performance from Fred Armisen as Dave, Anna and Ben’s eccentric recovering-sex-addict next-door neighbor who they recruit to be their drummer, and who eventually reveals a more sympathetic side while maintaining his strangely magnetic weirdness. As muddled as her view of marriage and gender may be in her film, Lister-Jones is at least honest enough to end Band Aid on an ambiguous note, subverting what seems like a happy ending with mere drips of water from a ceiling. A playful slow-motion tussle over the end credits between Anna and Ben suggests that the battle of the sexes will continue on, for all the momentary triumphs.
Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Writer: Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker, Ravi Patel, Susie Essman
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and The Village Voice, in addition to Paste. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.