Movies like “Band Aid” get buried at Sundance. They’re a dime a dozen in Park City. Zoe Lister-Jones’s film is an indie, auteur project that’s quirky, about hipsters and stars Fred Armisen. It’s hard to stand out at Sundance when you have all those pieces.
But “Band-Aid” doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. It has smart ideas about gender, an adept visual style, good songs, and it stars Fred Armisen! Lister-Jones stars, writes, directs, produces and composes original songs for “Band Aid,” and her effort and voice stands out over all the other films just like “Band Aid” that are only the sum of their parts.
Lister-Jones’s Anna is one half of a crumbling marriage to Ben (Adam Pally). Their latest feud is over an ungodly stack of dirty dishes piled up in the sink. It doesn’t look good, but they hate love each other so much that even a fight over the dishes escalates way too quickly. They’re at each others’ throats, and they’re cracking jokes about Nazis, they say “fuck you” in sing-song, and even in awkward arguments in front of friends, their quick banter can diffuse any situation.
That manifests itself at a birthday party for a toddler, when instead of hide in the laundry room and bicker, they start playing toy instruments intended for the kids and feel closer than ever.
A moment to talk about this scene: The cool 30-something couples of modern indie films all have friends who have taken over-protective and trendy parenting way too far. One lesbian couple in “Band Aid” has a daughter named Isis, keeping the name despite the terrorist cell. Another breast feeds directly in front of Ben and carries on her conversation. And the natural response in these types of films is an acknowledgement that the childless couple is probably kind of immature, but they’ll raise an eyebrow to everything anyway.
“Band Aid,” as so many other films of this ilk have, could’ve remained in that lane of the hipster adults trying to better themselves in the face of real adults. But Lister-Jones shifts gears and finds new irreverent humor.
As a form of therapy, Anna and Ben decide to start a band, writing songs on the fly based on arguments they’re having in that very moment of their jam session. “Our love is true but I don’t want to fuck you, fuck you,” they sing, a bouncy fun way of addressing marital discord. Of course, the success of their jam-sesh does in fact inspire a spur of the moment fuck-sesh, but Lister-Jones smartly observes that even passion doesn’t come so easy, like when Ben steps on a mouse trap in their garage as they try to make love.
The humor that’s hit or miss revolves around Anna and Ben’s enigma of a neighbor and their band’s drummer, played by Fred Armisen. His character comes completely out of left field, with Armisen playing a former sex addict who lives with two gorgeous models he’s managed to never touch. What he has to do with 21st Century love is anyone’s guess, but not all movies can manage characters this irreverent.
Part of the way “Band Aid” did manage to stand out at Sundance was the PR reveal that Lister-Jones’s entire on-set crew was women. That makes a good headline, but you can see the results on the screen. Lister-Jones has a vulnerable nude scene when their arguing is at its worst. “Band Aid” allows for Anna’s friendships and how their lives influence hers, whereas usually we’d only get male best friends for Ben.
And whether it’s Lister-Jones’s direction or Pally’s charm, Ben makes for a perfectly lovable schlub. In one band practice he breaks out a harmonica holder so he can still eat his pizza and play (“that’s the Tom Petty bite”). But he also talks like a guy who’s woke to feminism but ironically pushes back on those ideas as a way of getting under Anna’s skin. It’s smart writing by Lister-Jones and sharp thinking about gender.
Do all of these things add up to an indie rom-com different enough from everything else you might’ve seen at the festival? Maybe not, but “Band Aid” deserves your attention anyway.