Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review: "Band Aid"

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a smart romantic dramedy from a distinctly feminine perspective that also gets its male character down to the ground.

Zoe Lister-Jones wrote, directed, produced and co-stars in “Band Aid,” a desperately funny and surprisingly insightful look into the marital gender wars. Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are thirtysomething marrieds with dead-end jobs and a quickly shrinking roster of friends who don’t have kids.

They’re getting the pressure from all sides to procreate, but what they actually spend most of their time on is fighting.

One of the things they do for fun is play music at kids’ birthdays and such. After one particularly bad row, they pull out their guitars from the garage and start goofing around, carrying on their arguments through rock ‘n’ roll verses.

Their songs are duets of pure anger and resentment about the things that vex them: the dirty dishes in the sink, the lack of sex, his laziness, her neediness, their fear that they’re really losers and too afraid to admit it.

Ben has a sort of dreamy/schlubby thing going on, a mix of animal magnetism and puckish insouciance. Pally’s rakish hair, are-they-real eyelashes and very ordinary physique give a sense of a high school loverboy going slowly to pot. Ben is the kind of guy who may not seem like there’s a lot there, but the waters run deeper. He’s is a work-at-home graphic artist who can barely be bothered to respond to his client’s requests.

Anna was a writing prodigy in college who briefly had a book deal -- if you didn’t know, you can be sure she’ll tell you. Now she drives for Uber and frets about falling behind her friends, who all seem to have fabulous careers and/or adorable moppet kids. Anna wears prim outfits, almost Amish with Adam’s Apple-high top buttons, her hair pulled into a severe topknot.

Their relationship has its ups and downs, mostly downs lately. They’d probably be heading for the divorce if not for the songs providing an outlet for them to scream their frustrations at each other without the other taking it (too) personally. Once they start performing for audiences, the thrill also puts some zip back into their love life.

There are a few recognizable faces in supporting roles, including Retta (“Parks and Recreation”) as their disengaged therapist. Fred Armisen plays Dave, the creepy next-door neighbor who gets recruited to be their drummer because, well, they don’t really know anybody else. He turns out to be a recovering sex addict who has a lot of very cute “best friends.”

Ravi Patel, Brooklyn Decker, Hannah Simone and Susie Essman round at the cast as friends, relatives and best friends. Lucius provides the snappy songs.

It’s a strong debut for Lister-Jones as a writer/director. Her comedic voice recalls that of Tina Fey, a blend of robust feminist authority and nutty neuroticism. She writes a lot of biting things for Ben to say that no man should ever say to his wife, though virtually everyone has wanted to. She and Pally also have good onscreen chemistry; I totally bought them as a couple.

I also appreciated how story flirts with the obvious plot possibilities -- a sudden pregnancy or surprise record deal -- before returning back to Earth.

I spent such good time with these characters, I’d actually love to see a sequel one day. Maybe five years down the line, when Anna and Ben have a rugrat or two, and actually have something to fight about.

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