We know plenty of relationships have broken up over rock music, but can it actually save a marriage? That's the question asked in Band Aid, one of the best comedies to emerge out of Sundance this year. From writer, director, producer, and star Zoe Lister-Jones, the film has laughs to spare but also the grit that comes from personal flourishes. Lister-Jones, who typically has been seen as the bitchy best friend or as part of a collaborative force with her husband Daryl Wein (Together they managed to make Greta Gerwig suck in Lola Versus), has done what I thought impossible and make a rom-com about a garage band supremely enjoyable.
Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are one of those couple that fight....a lot. But they don't break up. The fighting seems to spark something in them. Sure, they go through a lot of pain and misery but they always stay together. They live in a tiny house and fight over everything. He won't do the dishes and has no career ambition; she's a little bit stuck-up, body obsessed, and and not at all spontaneous. As unfulfilled as they are at home they are also unfulfilled in their careers. She had a book deal that fell through and now she works as an Uber driver (a popular career path in Sundance movies this year); he's a failed graphic designer who barely manages to complete the freelance gigs he gets. It should go without saying that their sex lives are pretty barren.
Even with all of that crap between them, they still live one another, and we always feel that they are meant to be together even through the worst of it. That's a tough thing to pull off but Lister-Jones does it with a sharp script that highlights the couple's connective quirks, like their mutual love of weed, Holocaust jokes, and music. It's the last one that's important, because while rockin' out with kiddie toys at a friend's party, they realize all of their problems seem to go away when in a jam session. Soon they're breaking out the real guitars and making music together in the garage, using their real-life issues as source material. The songs aren't anything great; certainly nobody is going to win any Grammys or anything, but they sound natural and are pretty funny. "I love you, but I don't wanna fuck you" being a particularly enjoyable standout.
Portlandia's Fred Armisen adds a funky twist as their neighbor, appropriately named Weird Dave. A sex addict living with two incredibly hot former addicts (That he has no desire to sleep with even though they're Jamie Chung and Erinn Hayes), Dave completes the band as Anna and Ben's drummer, and soon they are rockin' out at talent shows and dive bars, working out their issues through song. For a moment I worried Armisen would be too offbeat and begin to take over the movie, but he actually fits in neatly as part of this little world Anna and Ben have built for themselves.
While this is all charming low-key stuff, there has to be a point when things come to a head. Anna and Ben have real problems that even a few good jams can't cure, including one that has been festering for far too long. While it's a familiar source of tension that causes a blowup recognizable in similar indie movies, Lister-Jones does find a way of putting things back together that feels unique to these characters. The fight they have is powerfully raw stuff with both characters saying some awful things, but it all comes from a simmering tension we've all been sensing from the beginning. The only serious drawback is a scene in which Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie Essman shows up and meticulously breaks down the differences between men and women. The film is a little bit messy and loose because the characters are, and having someone come in and explain everything feels like Lister-Jones didn't trust the audience enough.
Band Aid hits a sweet groove that's easy to fall for. It's the kind of movie that was tailor made for the festival crowd, but it's funny and honest enough that others will want to rock out to it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5