As the film went on, I began to think of married couple Anna and Ben (played by Zoe Lister-Jones and Adam Pally) as the domesticated version of Claudia and Stephen of The Magnetic Fields (well, if Stephen was straight and the two of them were even a couple). Anna is a quirky, failed writer who works as an Uber driver and he’s a failed artist who makes a living by designing boring corporate logos. They constantly fight about the little things like Ben’s lack of doing the dishes and Anna’s oral stimulation deficit. So, they form a band with recovering sex addict neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) and write songs about their fights as a form of therapy to save the marriage. This premise initially did not intrigue me when I saw the trailer, until I actually sat down with these characters and let the experience take hold. I didn't experience the euphoria I felt during last year's SING STREET, but I warmed up to Lister-Jones' sensibilities and presence the more this couple interacted with each other, for better and for worse.
BAND AID is not a comedy classic for the ages, but it’s a thoughtful dramedy that has its heart in the right place and manages to examine relationships from a perspective that feels fresh and inviting throughout. Most of the movie belongs to Pally and Lister-Jones, two actors who’ve cornered the market on making obnoxious characters not only tolerable, but relatable. It’s a joy watching them work, and their musical skills are more than adequate, especially Lister-Jones, who co-wrote all the film’s clever songs with Kyle Forester. Their tunes are catchy and clever, just like the movie, which hits more sharps than flats in a story that blissfully finds its rhythm as it goes along. Armisen provides huge laughs through his subtle reactions and expressions as you might expect, and he even provides a wonderful moment about his own relationship involving his parents.
The final third or so did take me aback in how much it moved me. I think it was due to the fact that Lister-Jones veers away from onstage antics (one involving a microphone blow job is excruciating although intently so) and eventually aims for pathos than just sheer observation and insight about these two fallible people. I think I would prefer more of a consistent tone, but there were several instances where I thought of the kind of intimacy that a master like Cassavetes would capture. The purity of two people fighting over familiar issues will resonate with anyone who has been in a tumultuous relationship. And mad props to Lister-Jones, who looks at the material here with sharp wit and a lack of syrupy sentimentality. She makes both characters villains at times but never demonizes them to the point of an audience member needing to take sides. And by the end, as Lister-Jones sings a poignant song, you’re likely to find yourself thoroughly pleased by the journey you’ve taken even if there were a few hurdles along the way. Much like any relationship, really. B-
Listen to my podcast interview with the director here: