Feuding lovers is inexhaustible dramatic material, because anyone who’s ever had a spat with their spouse or significant other—which is to say, anyone who’s ever had a spouse or a significant other—can see a little of themselves in the wars of words waged across bedrooms and breakfast tables. Of course, the best big-screen quarrels, from Faces to Contempt to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, establish a particular language of romantic combat—that certain way their certain characters claw at each other’s nerves or pick at each other’s defenses.
Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, from TV’s Life In Pieces, Band Aid might have benefitted from a little more specificity in the argument department, especially given how much of the movie is its two married characters, Anna (Lister-Jones herself) and Ben (Adam Pally), sniping at each other. Caught in parallel professional ruts—Anna drives for Uber after a lapsed book deal; Ben works from home in his underwear, procrastinating on corporate logos—the two frequently find themselves spiraling into exhausting and petty disputes. “Fuck you” they say to each other in the opening scene, surprised at first by how it sounds coming from their own mouths; by the end of the scene, they’ve lobbed it back and forth enough to destroy the precedent. The actors skillfully modulate the emotions of these showdowns, from needling sarcasm to shouting-match rage. You’ll believe you’re watching two people who love each other but no longer know how to live with each other. You may still wish Band Aid better distinguished their relationship.
This is a comedy, by the way—at least in part. It would be a much tougher sit, watching a marriage buckle under constant strife, were it not for the hook of Lister-Jones’ premise. As the title hints, Anna and Ben eventually stumble upon a novel form of counseling: They’ll put their fights to song, working out their frustrations toward each other in a fun way, through call-and-response ditties they bang out in their garage, with Ben on guitar and Anna on bass. (They call themselves The Dirty Dishes, after a regular trigger—a terrible band name, though it fits their dueling-vocalists, cutesy-combative, passive-aggressive sound.) This makeshift Mates Of State eventually recruits a neighbor, the gently unusual sex addict who lives next door, to play drums. Fred Armisen brings some low-key Portlandia kookiness to the part, but he seems to have wandered in from a broader, sillier movie.
In truth, Band Aid seems only half-interested in the music angle; it’s not really the John Carney rehearsal-space marriage drama it initially resembles. Lister-Jones is more concerned with the barely concealed source of Anna and Ben’s discontent—a trauma that the characters and the film talk around, but which becomes abundantly apparent early on. Even as she and Pally throw themselves into the messy open wound of their characters’ entwined feelings, there’s something tidy about the untidiness of the couple’s problems; even the lack of a conventional resolution feels like its own kind of bow on top. At least one understands, eventually, why the relationship study isn’t so distinctive: Through the summative speech of a heretofore-unseen supporting character, Lister-Jones is arguing that men and woman process grief differently, and that they work through their issues in different, sometimes incompatible ways. Whether there’s any truth to that pop-psychological insight, Band Aid may hold some therapeutic value to those grappling with their own domestic discord. But Anna and Ben’s crucible won’t etch itself onto the brain, the way the most incisive scenes from a marriage do.