Imagine if the couple in Once had ended up together, gotten married, and after about 10 years together, the spark that brought them together was in danger of going out. They realize at some point in that 10-year stretch that music wasn’t going to keep a roof over their heads, so they both got regular jobs that they find unfulfilling. As their arguing increased, they find out that they are best able to communicate through song, and they pick up their instruments again and rediscover their love of music while simultaneously attempting to save their marriage. That’s essentially what you get with Band Aid, and although the plot parallels with Once don’t line up exactly, they aren’t that far off either.
Adam Pally (as Ben) and writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones (as Anna) star in this bittersweet comedy about a couple who have suffered a tragedy in their lives a few years earlier and have never quite recovered from it because they won’t talk openly about how they feel. He’s an artist, making a living as a graphic designer, while she makes money as an Uber driver (which opens the film up to a handful of celebrity cameos playing her clients). Their arguing can get ugly at times, and all signs seem to point to their marriage falling apart. But one day while digging through their garage, they find their guitars, and they start fiddling around with chords and lyrics, when suddenly a recent fight they had forms the basis for a spontaneous song that is actually quite catchy and well composed.
As if by magic, these sung arguments open up long-closed lines of communication, and the strength in their marriage heads up the charts. After recruiting their weird neighbor, Dave (a priceless Fred Armisen), to play drums, the group decides to play a few shows at open-mic nights. After a rocky start, they pull it together and get a local following, with an outside chance at a record contract.
Band Aid works best when things stay serious. Pally and Lister-Jones are actually quite good when they allow the drama to take over, and they’re especially strong when pouring out their hearts within the context of some really great songs, with lyrics written by Lister-Jones (who is a lovely singer, as well as an actor) and composed by her frequent collaborator Kyle Forester (Breaking Upwards). As much of a goofball as Pally can be, he’s also dabbled successfully in dramatic work in such films as Night Owls, without seeming out of his depth. Lister-Jones (currently on the CBS series “Life in Pieces” and recently seen in the HBO film Confirmation) has always moved between comedy and drama, and she’s particularly good her as both a performer and first-time director.
The least successful parts of Band Aid are when it gets too jokey. Supporting performances by Ravi Patel and Hannah Simone as their best friends amount to nothing except a string of punchlines that don’t land and cutesy behavior that made me impatient for the film to return to the primary story. A wasted scene in which Ben visits his mother (Susie Essman) could have be excised from the film with no damage done. The weaker portions of Band Aid aren’t enough to overshadow the better material and musical numbers, but it does keep the film from achieving greatness.
Lister-Jones has done a credible job as a writer in recent years, with such films as Consumed, Breaking Upwards, and Lola Versus, but Band Aid seems more focused and less rambling, as well as playing to her strengths as a musician, which only serves to amplify her talents exponentially. And while I never try to anticipate what the general public will respond do, I think audiences will eat this up and get caught up in the emotion, catchy beats, and honest lyrics.
The chemistry between Pally and Lister-Jones is undeniable, both in good times and in bad. I love that the couple comes to the point where they realize they must figure out their individual pain on their own in order to come together to work things out in the end. And the underlying message that couples who want to stay strong need to get creative about how to talk to each other is nothing short of inspired, as most things are when you start to get desperate.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. To read my exclusive interview with writer-director star Zoe Lister-Jones and co-star Adam Pally, go to Ain’t It Cool News.