Last year’s Sundance Film Festival featured “Sing Street,” a movie about a teenage boy who starts a band to impress a girl. This year’s festival features “Band Aid,” a movie about a struggling couple who start a band to save their marriage.
But the comparison doesn’t go much further than that. “Band Aid” is a relationship movie that happens to include some music, rather than a music movie that happens to include a relationship.
Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are miserable. Anna is a failed writer trying to get by as an Uber driver, shuttling inattentive passengers around in her Prius. Ben is a freelance graphic designer who ignores emails from his few clients, choosing to spend his days lounging around half-dressed in a home that somehow he and Anna can still afford. They are witty but fight constantly, swear like sailors and get high before social gatherings to numb their anxiety.
In their defense, they are about a year removed from a traumatic event that isn’t clarified until later in the film. But that doesn’t make them any more pleasant to be around.
When counseling proves fruitless, a chance experience at a birthday party inspires Anna and Ben to form a band. The plan is to funnel their frustrations with each other into their music, Fleetwood Mac-style, with Ben on guitar and Anna on bass. After some initial hesitation, they recruit their weirdo neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) — a sex addict who lives with a pair of ex-strippers — to bring his drums over and complete the act.
The setup has some potential, and the angst trio (named “The Dirty Dishes” after one of their recent fights) begins to soldier forward and create some original music. But often the process just manages to give the struggling couple additional excuses to blast each other, and their progress is equaled by their regression.
Lister-Jones, who also wrote and directed the film, focuses the narrative more on Anna and Ben’s relationship rather than the exploits of their fledgling band, and we gradually learn more and more about the context of their struggles in increasingly heavy scenes. Armisen’s oddball comic stylings are meant to offer some relief from the tension, but are portrayed in a way that clashes with the heavy back-and-forth between Anna and Ben, reinforcing the film’s tonal inconsistencies.
For a movie about a garage band, “Band Aid” seems only passively interested in the joy of making music. Movies such as “Almost Famous,” “The Commitments” and the aforementioned “Sing Street” capture the energy of creating and performing music, even while their characters deal with turmoil. But “Band Aid” is much more preoccupied with exploring Anna and Ben’s marital dysfunction, using the music as a thin thread in the plot.
That being said, “Band Aid” does a good job of showing a couple struggling with some very real issues. Anna and Ben aren’t all that likable, in spite of their witty conversation, but they feel like genuine people, dealing with relatable problems.
At one point, Dave briefly quits the band after witnessing an especially awkward encounter between Anna and Ben at a band practice. “Band Aid” certainly has a unique, adult take on the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” philosophy, but too often, Lister-Jones’s film leaves the audience feeling like the third-wheel drummer.
“Band Aid” is not rated but would have a probable R rating for profanity, vulgarity, drug use, sexual content and nudity; running time: 91 minutes.