Band Aid Is a Self-Absorbed Mess About Self-Absorbed Messes

Jun 14, 2017 at 6:00 am
Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) start a band so they don't have to talk to each other.
Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) start a band so they don't have to talk to each other. P​HOTO BY JACQUELINE DIMILIA. COURTESY IFC FILMS

It sounds like an uninspired sitcom version of a thirty-something couple: A man and a woman arguing about dirty dishes talk around the subject. They pretend to be righteously outraged by each other's remarks (she calls him "legally retarded"; he compares her to a Nazi), the conversation degenerates into a sexual complaint, and finally (stand by, Standards & Practices, we're about to get "edgy"), they just chant "fuck you" into each other's faces. If that sounds irritating, consider this: That's just the first 90 seconds of Band Aid, a new romantic comedy about love between two members of Generation X as they slide deeper into adulthood.

Zoe Lister-Jones, who also wrote, directed and produced the film, as well as co-writing its songs, plays Anna. She and Ben (Adam Pally) are having all-too-obvious relationship problems. Ben sits around all day playing video games and bemoaning his lack of creative work (a few lines of dialogue suggest that he's designing someone's business logo, but we never see evidence of it). Anna, who had some kind of book deal fall through (the content of said book is never mentioned), is now an Uber driver.

Totes adorbs.

She's unfulfilled in the most cliched of relationship ways. All of her friends have better jobs and are having babies, but she and Ben are reluctant to start a family after suffering a miscarriage. Instead, they fight.

After an improvised musical number played on toy instruments as a child's birthday party, the couple hit on the idea of turning their squabbles into songs. Ben conveniently remembers that he has two guitars in the garage that he hasn't played since high school, and so a band is formed, with their weird neighbor Fred Armisen eventually joining in on drums.

Lister-Jones seems to think that songwriting is nothing more that two people trading off improvised rhymes, but it seems to work, because within days they manage to transform their misfortune (yes, they improvise a song about her miscarriage) into the kind of treacly music you hear in commercials that feature people like Ben and Anna making important financial decisions on their smart phones. By their second open mic, they're on the verge of a recording deal.

The "let's form a band" plot turns out to be a red herring; it's more or less forgotten for the film's final third. It's simply a lead-in to the film's Big Lesson: The Difference Between Men and Women, delivered first in a monologue from Ben's mother, then in a solo number from Anna. Although the film's ideas about gender have been mostly banal up to that point (the first song they perform live is a variation on the old "do these pants make me look fat?" quandary), the climactic overkill is just a string of pop-psychology cliches that could have been pulled from an old issue of Cosmopolitan.

Though Lister-Jones almost reluctantly gives Band Aid a few seconds of absurdist comedy (the official Gen X style book evidently decrees that every film must have a conversation about the zombie apocalypse), they only serve to underscore how insular its subjects are. Everyone around them — Anna's Uber clients, a cultish drum circle they cross in the park, Armisen and his ex-stripper roommates — is either unpleasant or odd. And while these moments may be good for a mild joke, they're merely distractions from Ben and Anna's only real interest: themselves.

Ben and Anna can't see the world beyond their living room because they're too busy wearing their casual indifference and irony like armor. They fluctuate between two tones: one whiny, the other narcissistic. Band Aid wants to seem open and honest, but it's more like Once for the incurably self-absorbed.