Zoe Lister-Jones might be best known to mainstream audiences for her role on the CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces,” but the actress has a long resume with roots in indie film.
She and her husband, Daryl Wein, arrived on the scene in 2009 with their film “Breaking Upwards,” which they co-wrote and Wein directed. After a stint of film roles, collaborations with Wein, feature writing (“Lola Versus”) and TV work, she’s now adding director to her list of titles with her debut feature “Band Aid,” which she wrote and in which she co-stars, with Adam Pally.
“Band Aid,” which features a murderers’ row of comedians and likable actors in supporting roles, is a very funny movie about an un-funny story. Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Pally) are a married couple, frustrated creative types stuck in a rut, who decide to dig out their old guitars and channel their frequent arguments into songwriting. Sometimes, the songs themselves lead back to fighting, but at least they usually result in catchy tunes, while offering the opportunity to channel extreme emotions and blow off a little steam.
The duo reluctantly recruit their strange neighbor, Dave (Fred Armisen), to play the drums in their trio, and Armisen, doing a patented Fred Armisen weirdo character, brings an arch acidity that cuts through the sludge of Anna and Ben’s relationship baggage. The original songs, written by Lister-Jones and Kyle Forester, land in that sweet spot where clever meets poignant.
The fun premise is balanced by the obvious trauma just below the surface in the couple’s relationship, which bubbles up in spats about the dishes or other quotidian annoyances. Their dynamic, at times toxic, is witty and uncensored, and Lister-Jones deftly peels back the layers of verbal jousting to reveal the unspoken depths of their pain, masked with drugs, fighting and, ultimately, their family band.
Lister-Jones brings a sense of unadorned vulnerability to her performance as the anxious, fearful writer Anna, stuck in the no-woman’s-land time between dating and babies. Pally shines in a nuanced performance as the jokester slacker suddenly responsible for more than he expected. The film is a true dramedy that wrestles with the darker, sadder elements of life in a frank, funny and deeply relatable way.
At times, the way symbolism functions in the plot is a bit facile, and some of the psychological motivations that could have been subtext are made plainly obvious, with therapy-style language courtesy of their therapist (Retta) and Ben’s mother (Susie Essman). But any clunkiness in the story is outweighed by the starkly intimate and raw honesty displayed on-screen.
“Band Aid” is a charming and profoundly affecting film that dives into the messy business of creation, which is so closely tied to perceptions of self-worth, in a world that places value judgments on the kinds of things we make. In this film, Lister-Jones makes the argument for embracing more kinds of creation, more failure and more play as a means of renewing the relationship to oneself and the others around us.
Running time: 91 minutes
Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles; ArcLight Hollywood