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Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Band Aid (2017)

* * *

Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally

The hardest thing about living with someone is living with someone. Everyone is kind of annoying if you spend enough time with them, and certain household issues are built to be fought over. Bathrooms, laundry, dishes - these are wars that will always be won by the person most willing to go nuclear, because the person who cares the most that the bathroom isn't clean or that the laundry or dishes haven't been done is always going to be the one to break and do it themselves. The problems at the heart of the relationship in Band Aid ultimately run deeper than the sink full of dirty dishes but... it's not not about the dishes, either. A romantic comedy about the "ever after" part of the story, Band Aid is a sharp and funny portrait of a marriage.

It starts with the dishes. Specifically, it starts with the fact that there are dirty dishes piled up in the sink. More specifically, it starts with the fact that, even though Ben (Adam Pally) is home all day, when Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones, doing quadruple duty as producer/director/writer/star) gets home from work the dishes are still just sitting there in the sink, the pile having grown. But Adam is home all day because he's working - should he really be expected to take time out of his work day to do the dishes just because he happens to work from home? I mean, sure, he had time to play some video games but that was something he wanted to do, you know? Should he really be penalized for the fact that he can look at a sink of dirty dishes and feel nothing, while Anna looks at it and gets all worked up? Seems like more of a her problem, when you think about it.

There is tension in the marriage. It's about the dishes, but it's about more than the dishes, it's about an issue that the film spends a lot of time dancing around before directly addressing it (though you'll probably guess what it is within the first 10 minutes). With things between them becoming increasingly fraught, Ben and Anna look for a way to work through their issues and hit on the idea of turning their frustrations into songs. So with the assistance of their neighbor, Dave (Fred Armisen), who makes it known to them that he plays the drums after finding them cleaning out their garage to make a rehearsal space, they form a band and call it The Dirty Dishes. Turning their fights into songs does the trick - but only until they realize that they aren't dealing with what's going on so much as they're just glossing over it in a way that lets them think it's being resolved. To truly resolve any of it, they're going to need to actually talk.

Band Aid is Lister-Jones' first film as a director, though you wouldn't know it from how confidently she unfolds the story or from how lean she keeps it. There no fat that could be trimmed here, though one might argue that the film could actually use a little bit of extra material, if only to flesh out the central relationship a little bit more. As it is, we don't learn all that much about Ben and Anna as a couple aside from the fact that he works in a creative field, she would prefer to work in a creative field but currently makes money by driving for Uber (episodes from which result in some of the film's funnier asides), he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the existence of dishes that need to be done, and they're struggling to overcome a personal loss that has the potential to sink their marriage because they just don't know how to deal with it in a way that keeps them together.

Yet even if the relationship itself remains short on specificity, Band Aid still works well as a relationship comedy. Lister-Jones and Pally have an easy, relaxed chemistry that works both when their characters are at odds (such as the opening scene, which finds them descending into a game of dueling "fuck you"s) and in the more tender moments when they're trying to negotiate the fact that they still love each other but just don't know how to be together in the circumstances that they now find themselves in. While the film has a few heavy, even poignant, moments, it is above all a comedy and quite a funny one at that. Lister-Jones has a facility for finding the humor in the everyday problems and even if Band Aid is a work of low-key ambitions, it's nevertheless a very winning movie.

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