‘Band Aid’ joins music with couples therapy: An interview with Zoe Lister-Jones

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“Band Aid” opens on a couple bickering by the kitchen sink. The faucet drips and a stack of plates leans Tower of Pisa-style while the pair clarify housekeeping rules. The fight works its way from an argument about kitchen upkeep, to a plea for more blow jobs, to a “fuck you” shouting match.

And thus, we enter the world of Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), a duo that’s hanging onto their relationship by a thread.

The scene was also among the first creative seeds to be planted as “Band Aid” writer, director and producer Zoe Lister-Jones developed the film.

“My first image that inspired the script as a whole was opening on a fight,” Lister-Jones said in an interview. “I thought it would be so cool as a viewer to just be thrown in the middle of a fight and not know where you are or where you’re going.”

The film takes us along for the ride as Anna and Ben work through their major rough patch. Anna, fresh off a failed book deal, drives an Uber by day. Ben is a graphic artist struggling to find solid work — and the inspiration to do it. Desperate to save their relationship, they agree to work through their relationship by turning all of their fights into songs in a band called The Dirty Dishes, with the company of their drummer and looming neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen).

First-time solo director Lister-Jones guides “Band Aid” with a realistic, handheld direction, and yet maintains a tinge of whimsy and immaturity through the band itself. Both emotional facets come hand-in-hand for any relationship, and the film provides an in-depth look into why people stay in romantic partnerships. We see a couple reach their most raw and vulnerable in relationship-defining arguments later in the film, ones much more poignant than the kitchen sink squabble, but also see a couple sing silly lyrics and riff over pizza in their garage.

“Being raised by artists and being an artist myself, those notions of failure and heartache around one’s creative process and rejection are very real for me,” Lister-Jones said. Those struggles are key in examining the nature of Anna and Ben’s relationship with each other, as well as their individual artistic journeys.

In one scene, the couple joins Dave in their garage to brainstorm song ideas. The meetup follows what was meant to be a creative excursion, but had turned into just a typical, mindless afternoon on shrooms for Anna and Ben. As Dave looks on awkwardly from his drumkit, the two begin arguing because Ben can’t remember the song ideas the they produced during their shroom session. Out of exasperation, Dave plays a beat and urges his bandmates to just play something instead of arguing. What results is a song that lyrically pits their misunderstandings against one another — the tension dissipates, the music acting as a tonic to their communication mishap.

Lister-Jones jokingly calls Anna and Ben’s band a form of “ther-aoke.” “(It’s a) therapeutic act that becomes more of an artistic endeavor,” she said. For the film couple, both artists in their own right, The Dirty Dishes becomes a mode of processing their arguments in a non-erosive way.

“Band Aid” explores not only the couple’s misgivings and failures, but also what it means to be an artist at large: without an efficient, healthy way to deal with emotional matters, one resorts to art as a form of therapy. It’s why painters paint, why writers write, why filmmakers like Lister-Jones make films.

“(Art is) too hard a profession to not have a dire need to figure something out that is emotionally based,” Lister-Jones said. Similarly, the need to break free artistically is absolutely essential to the Anna and Ben’s future together. Prior to the creation of their band and the songs about their epic quarrels, the couple was at a emotional stalemate. Here, “Band Aid” puts the healing properties of art and creativity on display.

Contact Danielle Gutierrez at [email protected]. Tweet her at @dmariegutierrez.