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What if a couple went all Taylor Swift on their marital disputes and turned them into songs? That’s the cutesy-sounding premise of Band Aid, Zoe Lister-Jones’ fifth outing as a writer and first as director. And although it gives off tired mumblecore vibes in addition to its potentially quirky setup, the film offers interactions and wisdom that are often funny and surprisingly rooted in reality.
From the start, the arguing’s the thing. Bickering over a sink full of dishes suddenly nosedives into “fuck you” territory, an ugly gut-punch of a place from which many couples have trouble retreating. Ben (Adam Pally) is the first to fire it off, but then Anna (Lister-Jones) follows suit, and seconds later they both try to out-”fuck you” each other. It actually diffuses the tension some, but this is only the tip of their woes.
They get high on their way to couples therapy—Anna is the most uptight pothead ever—a session that is not only fruitless, it ends with the counselor saying, “Well, time’s up, and, um, I’m moving to Canada.” Then there’s a stop at a birthday party for Anna’s godson, which calls for more pot while the couple return to being civil with each other as a reaction from all the exaggerated baby love around them. “It’s so culty,” Anna says about the current state of motherhood.
But when they return home, they return to being miserable. It’s not only their fighting; each of them is professionally unfulfilled, with Anna driving for Uber after she failed to deliver on a book deal and Ben, an artist, making corporate logos seemingly whenever the mood strikes. “We have shitty jobs to pay the rent,” Ben says, “because that’s what you do when you’re an adult. And it’s shitty.” So it’s understandable that once the pair get creative again, digging out their guitar and bass and fumbling until they end up with songs about their arguments, they get a little cozier. Their neighbor, Weird Dave (Fred Armisen), helps out on drums.
Lister-Jones lets the camera, at least when it’s trained on Ben and Anna, waver ever-so-slightly, because, you know, otherwise scenes wouldn’t feel real. Other than that, there’s very little to pick on here. Lister-Jones and Pally’s characters interact not like a couple whose distance is insurmountable, but one that just needs a little nudge to bring back the romance. Both actors are adept at understated one-liners, which punctuate the script more often than you might expect. Pally, in the traditional Mark Duplass role, is especially appealing, lustily watching his co-star through his shaggy hair as Anna comes up with lyrics on the spot.
Then Ben’s mother (Susie Essman) steals the show, making an appearance to offer her son a brilliant breakdown of the different ways in which men and women communicate and deal with emotions. It doesn’t feel like a preachy moment, nor one that lets the couple’s troubles or the film itself end up tied in perfect bows. It’s just the perspective of a woman who’s lived a life. Let the counselor go to Canada. Mom’s got this.
Band Aid opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.