One of my favorite aspects of Sundance this year was its focus on female-driven movies, be it behind-the-scenes or in front of the camera. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the musically-driven romantic dramedy BAND AID. Zoe Lister-Jones isn’t just a triple threat, she is a quintuple threat, having produced, directed, starred in, and wrote the screenplay and song lyrics. Phew! And not only that, the entire film crew was made of women. Lister-Jones brought many members of the female crew on-stage for the Q&A after the film, and said this was her way of giving women opportunities to gain experience and build their resumes in all aspects of filmmaking. How awesome is that!?
The movie opens on Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) fighting over a dripping sink full of dirty dishes. As the heat of the argument intensifies, it becomes obvious the fight isn’t actually about the dishes and there is a lot of tension bubbling under the surface. Both are disappointed in their professional careers, where they have stopped their artistic pursuits in order to be an Uber driver and visionless graphic designer. But there is an even deeper personal pain that they don’t speak about, which is slowly chipping away at their marriage; this painful, unspoken secret is revealed as the movie progresses.
One afternoon, at Anna’s godchild’s birthday party, the couple gets high and starts making music on the children’s mini-instruments. They realize how much fun they are having and decide to haul out their mothballed instruments from the garage and start their own band. Anna plays bass, Ben plays electric guitar, and the two start creating music to coincide with their biggest fights. Instead of arguing, they get their frustration out in the music, which actually sounds really natural and therapeutic… did I also mention kick-ass? After all, some of the best albums have been made from conflicts within bands (I’m looking at you Fleetwood Mac), so why can’t it work with Anna and Ben? Now all they need is a drummer, which comes in the form of their weird neighbor (Frank Armisen).
You know what the cherry is on top of this female-driven film? BAND AID is actually really good, with catchy, seemingly organically written songs. :gasp: Believe it or not, a group of women can actually make good movies. Remember, you heard it here first. Lister-Jones successfully navigates a difficult tone, making a heartfelt dramedy, that doesn’t exist in either drama or comedy for too long. And the music, which Lister-Jones co-wrote with Kyle Forester, always sounds so natural and real. Of course, they wrote the songs before filming, but it didn’t feel that way. I never felt like I was watching a movie but that I was actually seeing someone create music. I still have a few songs stuck in my head and can’t wait for the soundtrack. Oh, and the harmonica stand pizza trick is definitely going to make some waves.
The music is important, but what is most critical to the film’s success is the chemistry between the two leads, Lister-Jones and Sundance staple Adam Pally. This relationship is what the entire movie is centered around and pretty much makes or breaks the film. Thankfully, Pally and Lister-Jones have insane chemistry, to the point I wondered if they had any real-life romantic history; so many of their fights felt raw and realistic. Lister-Jones treats the camera as a fly on the wall, showing fights that are relatable for any couple. You feel uncomfortable watching such intimate moments… and you’re supposed to, almost like when you are at a friend’s house and they start arguing with their significant other in front of you. And when the couple finally starts finding comfort and healing within the music, it’s easy to root for their relationship.
As Lister-Jones introduced the movie, she said her therapist told her to take a second to take it all in during her film’s premiere at Sundance. She humorously paused, then followed it up with a “yep, yep, yep, yep…” But I think it’s important we all pause and give props to a filmmaker who used her platform to make a realistic film discussing women’s issues and in terms of filmmaking, giving more opportunities for female crew members in Hollywood. Since I saw BAND AID a few days ago, I have been rooting for it to get distribution and Googling it each day to see the status. So far, it seems they are still waiting for the right distributor, but based on the tremendous response from audience-members at the premiere screening, and the other positive critical reviews, I know it’s only a matter of time before this one gets snagged.
My Review: B+