A Marriage Struggles To The Beat Of 'Band Aid'

Jun 1, 2017

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are fighting. The young Los Angeles couple bickers long and loud in unprintable expletives about dirty dishes, interfering mothers, his laziness, her incessant judgments and, of course, sex (not enough) in their shaky 10-year marriage. Band Aid is a comedy, and though the jokes are out-there funny on and off (a toddler named Isis has a cameo), half an hour in you may wish this quarrelsome pair would take it outside. If only because by now they should know that life is hard, hell is other people and screechy repetition of the f-word is not always poetry. Or even stand-up.

Hang in there, please. The movie, a feature debut for writer-director Lister-Jones (she's also an actress who can be seen on CBS's Life in Pieces), soon begins to grow into itself, and not just because Anna gets a bright idea that singing their fights in public might be a better way to move forward than seething at opposite ends of a therapist's couch. Things quiet down, and perk up, with the arrival of Weird Dave from across the street (Fred Armisen), who seems to be running a rehab project for sex addicts out of his home. Armisen adds some lower-register deadpan to the proceedings, and he's also pretty good on drums, having played in a post-punk band long before Portlandia made him famous. With Anna and Ben, Weird Dave forms a band and things go well on the club circuit, until its success causes the couple to stop fighting. And then off they go again, because other unfinished business that matters more than the dishes pokes its head in.

Time was when a movie like Band Aid would be filed under mumblecore alongside all but plotless mood pieces like Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha or the Duplass brothers' The Puffy Chair, low-budget indies that ambled along, recording with affably wry irony the dilemmas of college graduates stuck in low-paying jobs and ill-defined relationships. Anna and Ben are both better off (they're artists) and worse off (they haven't made art in forever) than most in this demographic. They're not slackers: She drives for Uber while he cranks out copy for corporate outfits. She had a deal for a book she hasn't written; he can't hold down a job. Now they fear they're old news, and a personal misfortune, along with long familiarity, threatens to derail a once-lively marriage.

Band Aid has the same loose structure and rambling indirection as mumblecore, only with glossier production values (the ambience is brightly colored L.A. indie grunge), two ridiculously good-looking leads and a more overt political agenda. Made with an all-woman crew, the movie's upfront subject is the gender wars. But despite some arch loose talk about "post-feminism" and "hetero-normative" this and that, and a pro-forma lecture from Ben's mom (albeit crisply delivered by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie Essman) about how to negotiate the difference between women (feelings, hormones) and men (unable to express), the movie's energies lie elsewhere.

At its best, Band Aid ditches the sloganeering and carries us along with Anna and Ben's rocky ride through mourning the loss of youth, with its absolutist faith that there's a life code to be cracked, upon which a door will swing open to blissful ever after. Anna sings out her rage and pain, Ben listens and responds without snark. There follows some authentically awkward mutual reflection, a productive writing session, and a bit of business with the water supply that signals a dawning adult awareness that trouble always lurks, and the key is how we deal. With it all, you get the feeling that this couple is going to fare better than the arty types played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, who appeared to be under the impression that you cannot have both a serious career and a happy marriage — an idea that left the building along with the feminine mystique.

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