Ask any successful married couple how they’ve made their relationship work, and they’ll probably tell you that among the other important attributes — love, commitment, trust, a sense of humor about the whole thing — it’s crucial to be able to argue well. That’s not to say couples need to argue a lot to make a marriage last. But when difficulties pop up, as they inevitably will, the two people need to be able to arrive at some kind of shared language to articulate their frustrations, anxieties and disappointments. It doesn’t matter how often or how loud the arguments are — what matters is that the couple are locked into the same groove.
Few recent films have so potently expressed this notion as Band Aid, which is playing in select cities and coming to VOD tomorrow. This Sundance comedy-drama is a little too broad and a little too precious, but I imagine a lot of couples will recognize their own insecurities and foibles in this tale of an L.A. pair who discover that the only way they can combat their problems is by addressing them head-on in song.
Zoe Lister-Jones (who also wrote and directed, as well as had a hand in the film’s original songs) plays Anna, who’s still in mourning for a book deal that went south months ago. Her husband Ben (Adam Pally) works as a graphic designer, and he too seems stuck in a malaise, struggling with the realization that his higher artistic aspirations are going to permanently take a backseat to soulless corporate gigs that pay the bills. But the couple’s unhappiness is also connected to a secret pain: Anna suffered a miscarriage, a tragedy that has thrown their marriage into disarray.
Band Aid starts off as a cutesy examination of the little irritations that eat away at relationships. Anna doesn’t understand why Ben won’t do the dishes. He’s wondering why she has to be so critical. She’s resentful that she has to work as an Uber driver, while he gets to hang out on the couch to do his design jobs. It’s clear they love each other — they’re even putting in the effort to see a therapist — but a spark that was once there has been snuffed out. Neither of them wants to say it, but there’s a growing fear that maybe they can’t ever get back to the happy times they once knew.
Despondent, these frustrated artistic types hit upon an idea: What if they write songs about their nagging issues with one another? Soon, they’re dusting off the old guitar and bass they haven’t touched for years and recruiting their awkward neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) to play drums.
The songs are hardly revolutionary, but they pinpoint universal sentiments. “I Don’t Wanna Fuck You” talks about that familiar feeling when you’re just not in the mood to mess around and don’t want it to become a big thing. (The chorus: “I love you / But I don’t wanna fuck you.”) Meanwhile, “Mood” revisits the age-old differences between men and women when they’re in a bad mood. (Anna howls at Ben, “That’s what it means to be a dude / That you can act and speak so lewd?”) But more importantly, the songs — silly and spontaneous but born from real anger — open a line of communication between them to vent. No longer adversaries, Anna and Ben start to remove the sting from their animosity.
It’s too bad that Band Aid ends up devolving into a men-are-like-this/women-are-like-that treatise. (Also, Armisen’s character, a wacky recovering sex addict, feels too much like a limp Portlandia creation stretched out to feature length.) Yet those misfires don’t entirely overshadow the genuine anguish undercutting the film’s humor. The songs give this couple a way to laugh through their rough patch while also providing them with a fresh creative outlet. (They even name their band The Dirty Dishes as a way to highlight the seeming triviality of their fights.)
Eventually, though, Anna and Ben realize they’re not actually fighting about what’s bothering them. In reality, the disagreements about washing dishes and being judgmental are simply a distraction from the devastation they can’t face about losing a baby. As Band Aid nears its conclusion, they come to understand that writing some lighthearted rock songs can’t come close to the painfully intimate conversations they need to have about the miscarriage and the irreparable change it made in their life plans.
It’s a sign of their deep devotion that, rather than pull at the scab, they’d rather just silently stew, letting resentment and discord build up. But eventually, the hard conversations begin. Why is Anna still broken up about it? Why isn’t Ben broken up about it? Despite Band Aid’s Sundance-y qualities, Lister-Jones is astute about the ways that even strong relationships do their best to talk around problems rather than face them. She’s also wise enough to know that the ability to fight isn’t enough either — you also have to be brave and honest enough to fight about the right things.