“Like, I just want to create something with some kind of meaning… I want to find meaning in something.”
Based on its name, it’s safe to assume Band Aid is one of those punny indies where the title was conceived before the film itself. Actress/writer/producer Zoe Lister-Jones’ charming, if intentionally messy, directorial debut centers on struggling thirty-something couple Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), a loving, if fractured, married relationship that often results in endlessly bickering — quite often about unclean dishes and other seemingly trivial matters (and a few not-so-trivial matters too). Tired of having the same fight over and over and over again, while similarly not ready to call it quits, Ben and Anna turn their fighting into art, forming a folksy garage band that’ll let their ugly quibbles blossom into lovely twee songs. Think The White Stripes by way of Husbands and Wives. When it comes to their marriage, it’s not a pretty picture. When it comes to the film surrounding them, however, it’s a heartfelt, tender, deeply felt dramedy with resonance and affection. It’s indie to the nines, but in this specific case, that intimate, immersively unstable sensibility wields some funny, warmly moving and periodically poignant results.
Band Aid is at its most striking towards its grounded, believable and humorously frank opening. Despite some obvious visual metaphors involving a dripping sink and unkempt dirty piles, Band Aid immediately thrusts you into the moment, boldly throwing us into a heated argument between a disillusioned couple that we do not yet know (or know if we want to know). It’s gutsy and hard-hitting, while simultaneously being consistently witty and continuously hilarious to boot. Lister-Jones’ direction in these early moments is unconventionally assured and poised, knowing exactly what it wants to be, even if the audience itself might be immediately uncomfortable. And rightfully so. Band Aid, like a wound left unkempt, is supposed to sting at least a little. These characters are emotionally raw, yet unable to communicate their true feelings to one another, even though they’re the only two people who know exactly how they feel. It’s familiar but it’s deeply felt and emotionally visceral. It’s copiously quippy enough to not let the emotions get too real, yet it’s dramatic, sincere and well-acted enough to make it seem realistic.
But once we move into our inciting incident, notably as Fred Armisen’s appealingly humorous but frustratingly unrealistic drummer Dave comes into the picture, Band Aid loses its engrossing authenticity, something it’s never able to gain again (at least, not in full). An awkward, gawky, high-waisted (and emotionally abused) weirdo with a sex addiction —which results in gorgeous women like Cassandra (Jamie Chung) and Crystal (Erinn Hayes) hanging around his house at all times in the day, despite Dave’s complete obliviousness to their looks — Dave is certainly a funny character on paper, and Armisen brings him to life with his typical neurotic bemusement, but the character in question would ultimately work best as one of his eccentric oddballs on Portlandia than someone living inside the world of Band Aid, which (at least initially) searches for something a little deeper, a little meatier and a little more rooted in actuality.
Still, the central dynamic between Pally and Lister-Jones is key to Band Aid‘s success, and thankfully they’re both perfectly in-tune to their own friction and the film’s uneven-but-relaxed-and-openhearted vibe. Their bruised chemistry is convincing and filled with emotional versatility in its candor. Their fight sequences might hit just a little too close to home for some viewers, but they’re robust and remarkably unflinching. It adds weight to these stubbornly downtrodden characters, and while Band Aid often dips its toes into Sundance-friendly LA plot points (note: Band Aid did premiere at Sundance in January), it’s justified and invigoratingly unmodest. Even when it gets preachy, as it does when the wonderfully cantankerous Susie Essman enters the fold in the third act as Ben’s pestering mother, Band Aid retains a flightiness and a steadfast morality, which is invigorating even beyond its somewhat formulaic tendencies.
There are some other problems. Like maybe one or two too many drug sequences, for instance. It also finds itself too keen on jumping into some sitcom-y situations admit the heavyweight dramatics, which makes sense considering Lister-Jones is a regular on CBS’ Life in Pieces with Colin Hanks (who makes a cameo here). It pokes small holes into the movie’s balloon, which doesn’t deflate it but it doesn’t make it float as high as it ultimately should either, considering how strong and introspective Lister-Jones’ script can be at its very best. These are common problems with indie debuts, however, and I’m glad to say Lister-Jones’ first foray into directing is more meaningful and telling than some others. It’s not brilliant, nor is it quite as life-affirming as it desperately hopes to be, but Band Aid is just the right amount of sweet, entertaining, telling and truthful to work. Like the bumpy relationship at the center, it’s not always a smooth ride to the finish line, but it keeps pushing forward, all while mending its wounds along the way.