Film Review – Band Aid
Marriage can be tough. What starts out as roses and champagne slowly turns into routine, familiarity, and boredom. That’s the true test: how does a couple maintain that feeling of surprise and spontaneity when each person knows everything about the other? If you’re not careful, resentment and bitterness replaces that initial attraction. In Band Aid (2017), a married couple faces that very dilemma. When you’ve finally reached your “happily ever after,” what else can there be?
In her directorial debut, Zoe Lister-Jones exhibits a keen eye for the dynamics of relationships in their everyday capacities. Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) operate like a couple that have been attached by the hips for years. Watch the way the two interact with an almost unspoken bond. The way Ben lights up a smoke and then offers it to Anna, who takes it in a kind of knee jerk reaction. Or the way Anna hands a bottle to Ben who instinctively opens it for her without hesitation. It’s clear that these two know each other inside and out, their movements and processes demonstrate a couple that have been together for years.
But it’s that comfort and recognition that has been the cause of their problems. Anna and Ben constantly fight, whether it’s over trivial matters like dirty dishes or bigger issues – like a failed book deal or the lack of a child. They’re both in their thirties and are slowly coming to the realization that the dreams they had as youngsters have the serious possibility of never coming to fruition. They seek counseling, but nothing comes from it. Then, while attending a friend’s child’s birthday party, Anna and Ben play with a toy guitar and microphone, and to their surprise they actually have fun. Capitalizing on this, Anna has the bright idea of starting a band, and using music as a means to work out their frustrations.
As a writer and director, Lister-Jones truly shines when she allows Anna and Ben to be themselves with each other. Lister-Jones and Pally have fantastic chemistry together. There’s a comfort and ease in how they interact, even while they fight. Lister-Jones shows them on equal footing. Neither Anna nor Ben is the “villain” of this picture. Rather, they are everyday normal human beings, with hopes and fears and anxieties and neurosis all throughout their personalities. They are funny and witty and intelligent, but also immature and sensitive and insecure. Lister-Jones paints them with different facets and that’s what makes them all the more interesting.
Because Anna and Ben are so well rounded, it causes the musical scenes to be all the richer. When they finally get on their instruments and air out their dirty laundry in song, the honesty and verve in how they express themselves is captivating. The music has a lo-fi, rough texture to the composition and lyrics, but that works as a benefit. Notice the way Anna and Ben glance at one another during their performances. Even though most of the songs deal with their fights, their connection during these scenes is anything but hostile. We can see their relationship blooming (or should I say “re-blooming”) during these sequences. Not since Once (2007) have two people used music to reflect how they feel about each other in such an effective way.
If Band Aid had only been about Anna and Ben and their music, that may have been successful enough. Unfortunately, we also get the inclusion of side characters and unnecessary comedic scenes that weigh down the rest of the narrative. Fred Armisen plays Dave, Anna and Ben’s next-door neighbor. Armisen plays the character out of an entirely different movie, going for a broader approach rather than a realistic one. Dave is recruited as the band’s drummer, but we also learn that he is a recovering sex addict who is helping two former strippers (Jamie Chung, Erinn Hayes) get over their addictions as well. In a film in which the two main characters are portrayed as grounded, realistic individuals dealing with very serious problems, Dave comes from left field and undercuts the tone. Sure, what Armisen does is funny, but he works in contrast with the main story rather than in complement.
In fact, Band Aid slows down when Lister-Jones goes for the bigger comedic scenes. In one sequence, Anna and Ben travel to the beach and take shrooms as a means of gaining creative inspiration for their music. We have to sit for minutes and watch them roll on the sand and chase seagulls. This is one of the few moments that didn’t feel authentic, as though it’s there not to bolster the character development but only to get a cheap laugh. The same can be said when Anna and Ben take the stage for the first time, in which an alcohol induced Anna decides to use the microphone to demonstrate her oral capabilities to the entire crowd. The writing, direction, and acting are too good for such absurd comedy.
But despite all that, Band Aid is a very good examination of a relationship at a crossroads. The use of music and the special on screen dynamic between Lister-Jones and Pally really make this one to seek out. It’s a story that doesn’t try to sugar coat what love is but it doesn’t look at it with a cynical eye as well.