It’s said music calms the savage beast, but what about the savage couple? Can it instill harmony between a forever-bickering husband and wife? Zoe Lister-Jones seems to think so in “Band Aid,” her charming little dramedy set to a beat you can dance to.
In addition to writing, directing and producing, Lister-Jones finds time to star as Anna, the better half of a marriage to burgeoning deadbeat, Ben (Adam Pally). Theirs is a festering union that began to go off the rails at the first sign of adversity. They’ve been fighting about everything from dirty dishes to joyless sex ever since. When we join in on their latest row, they are about 10 seconds from filing for divorce. Then, fate intervenes at a child’s birthday party when they pick up a toy guitar and microphone and begin adlibbing a duet in which the lyrics are drawn from their deepest anxieties.
Suddenly, they find themselves having fun for the first time in months, causing Ben to suggest that they turn their bitter fights into vitriolic songs. Next thing you know, they’re cleaning out the garage, unpacking guitars that have been collecting dust since high school and jamming with their creepy next-door neighbor and ace drummer, Dave (“Portlandia’s” Fred Armisen). The result is better than marriage counseling. They’re getting gigs and record companies are taking notice. But just when you think you know where “Band Aid” is headed, Lister-Jones shrewdly pulls the plug, turning her acerbic screwball comedy into a deeply felt examination of both what makes a marriage work and how the power of creativity can be a magical cure for grief.
She really gets to you, too, speaking universal truths about how men and women want different things, desires their partners rarely understand. She’s really onto something with a script that is knowing and perceptive. You can’t help but see pieces of yourself — and your partner — in every word and action Ben and Anna partake on their way to what can only be called enlightenment.
Yet, all is not perfect. For a comedy, “Band Aid’s” attempts at humor often fall flat, albeit daringly. Anyone up for a couple Holocaust jokes? At least those land with less of a thud than the bits involving Anna, a failed author turned Uber driver, and her array of fares, including a surly one played by Colin Hanks. Ben, a blocked artist who’s resorted — at least when he’s not lounging around the house in his underwear — to designing corporate logos, also clanks a punchline or two. Luckily, most of that is concentrated in the front half of the movie, allowing Lister-Jones to satisfy her sitcom instincts before finally finding her voice in the film’s vastly superior coda.
She also draws strong performances from Pally (“Don’t Think Twice”), with whom she shares strong chemistry; and Susie Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) as Ben’s wisdom-laden mother. Essman has but one scene on camera, but it’s one of the film’s best, as she advises Ben on exactly what it is that thrusts men and women into completely opposite orbits emotionally. As for Armisen, he mostly gets in the way, straining for laughs by playing a recovering sex addict, who — in a running joke — is never tempted to hit on his two “best friends” played by Brooklyn Decker and Jamie Chung. Yeah, right. Most of the movie, though, belongs to Pally and Lister-Jones, two actors who’ve cornered the market on making obnoxious characters not only tolerable, but likable. It’s fun 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; just like the movie, which hits more sharps than flats in a story that blissfully finds its rhythm.
Cast includes Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen and Susie Essman.