For women and film, oh what a month has it been.
Sofia Coppola became the second woman in Cannes history to win for best director thanks to her artful reinterpretation of The Beguiled. Wonder Woman rose to the pedestal of box office greats by becoming the largest grossing film by a female director and proof that a woman superhero is every bit as compelling and powerful as her male peers. And finally, Band Aid hit theaters and earned a spot in the history books as the first film created by an entirely female crew, lead by director and writer Zoe Lister-Jones. More than an inspirational show of female artistry, Band Aid offers clever and charming insight into the inner workings of a marriage and how one couple overcomes loss.
The film follows Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) as their marriage becomes a monotone, daily routine of fighting and verbal repartee. As the movie unfolds, it unveils the couple’s rich history – a history defined by a significant loss and an inability to grieve properly, which in turn causes the couple to war with one another in a surprisingly mean, explosive, funny, and self-destructive manner. A couples’ therapist (played by a hilariously understated Retta) suggests that the pair translate their grief in a more creative manner. And so, in perfect movie fashion, Anna has the bright idea to turn cruel, witty banter into impassioned song.
Despite the punny title’s emphasis on singing, the film is more heavily focused on weaving a dimensional and emotional portrait of a tangled and damaged marriage. Despite the couple’s dysfunctional relationship, there are brief, sparkling, delightfully tender moments between Anna and Ben that fuel the viewer’s faith in love, their marriage, and human connection. Pally effortlessly captures Ben’s endearing mediocrity and Lister-Jones happily embodies Anna’s relentless optimism.
The film pays special attention to the role gender in the duo’s marriage. At a particularly insightful moment, Ben’s mother (Susie Essman) explains her belief that men and women function entirely differently in relationships when dealing with a tragedy such as the one Anna and Ben must live through. In her monologue, she explains how Ben is able to compartmentalize his emotions and separate his daily routines, his grieving process, and his love for Anna. Meanwhile, Anna’s mind works with more nuance, stringing her love and grief and life together so that she never has a moment of peace — she never has the privilege of forgetting the past. It is a philosophy that surprisingly adheres to more traditional gender stereotypes. This simple conclusion illustrates how the couple – and perhaps men and women – are unable to communicate or process an intense emotion, such as loss, together.
By the end of the sequence, however, the film completely rejects this classic romantic comedy trope and its historic gender roles by offering a solution to this fundamental societal dilemma: empathy. In the most striking and memorable scene, Anna finishes a manic cleaning session after a period of suffering (it is as quotidien and familiar and frenzied as it sounds) and then proceeds to put on heels, a dress, red lipstick, and meticulously applied eye shadow. She pauses to admire her work, then kicks off her shoes and commences to wage a pillow war that is either her mattress versus herself, herself versus herself, or some other combination – either way, it’s a form of combat that has no real ally, just one mission: Exude chaos and wreak havoc … She swings and hits and jumps and laughs in an active sequence every bit as heartbreaking, funny, relatable, and honest as it sounds. The point, in the rhetoric of Ben’s mother’s explanation, is that she lets herself go, she lets herself forget – for a second – her pain. She gives herself the luxury that Ben, that men, gift themselves much of the time.
This is a wise and poignant film in its treatment of marriage and of two individuals, and should be praised for its delicacy, its humor, and its truth, but also its creation. While the film undoubtedly showcases the incredible and blossoming talent of Lister-Jones and is a promise of even greater things to come, it also encompasses a potent energy that many actors interviewed attributed to the entirely woman crew whose efforts across all stages of production translates to the screen. The film is an example of and lesson on collaboration – in love, in marriage, in partnership, in work, and in life.