Seven Years Ago, Zoe Lister-Jones Made the Straightest Movie Ever — Now It Feels Super Gay

A month after coming out to myself, my girlfriend, my best friend, and my therapist, I went to see Zoe Lister-Jones’ Band Aid.

I left the IFC Center, a swirl of feelings. Mere months later, I might have written it off as the straightest movie ever. But at the time I was too uncertain of my own standing in queerness to label any other person, or, for that matter, any movie. Instead, I felt challenged by the movie’s cold portrait of manhood and open-wound portrait of womanhood. I left the theatre, alongside my girlfriend, with the nerves of a shoplifter. If I could actually succeed at escaping this binary — and the binary relationship that appeared on-screen — it would be like getting away with something. All I had to do was not get caught.

Later that night, I secretly downloaded the movie’s soundtrack. I wanted to listen to its original songs of heterosexual malaise, maybe as a warning, maybe as motivation, maybe as a challenge. On the one hand, my lack of connection was reassurance that I was outside of the characters on display. On the other hand, my biggest gap in connection was with the songs’ female perspective. Lister-Jones’ character was a woman. She was a woman in the way my mom was a woman and my sister was a woman and maybe even my girlfriend was a woman. Was I uncomfortable because I worried that I’d be trapped in this binary? Or was the discomfort due to the realization that I would never belong? At least, not on the side of the binary I aspired toward.

I grew into my queerness and my womanhood that summer and by the time I started on hormones in the fall, I hadn’t thought about Band Aid in months. In fact, I didn’t really think about the movie again until a few weeks ago when Zoe Lister-Jones came out to The Hollywood Reporter after showing up to the Independent Spirit Awards with fellow queer filmmaker Sammi Cohen.

Oh, I thought. Of course, I thought. Her movie was so straight, because it was gay.

Band Aid is about a woman named Anna (Lister-Jones) who is married to a man named Ben (Adam Pally). Anna recently had a miscarriage and less recently had a book deal fall-through, and the grief and ennui have combined into a concoction of mid-30s life crisis. Rather than finding support in one another, Anna and Ben fight. They fight a lot. They fight about topics that would fit into your average low-brow family sitcom (he won’t do the dishes! she won’t give him blowjobs!) but gone is the light touch and the jokes. When Anna and Ben fight, they’re mean.

That is until they’re stoned at their friends’ kid’s birthday party and start messing around on some kid instruments. What if instead of fighting, they turned their fights into songs? If this sounds like the premise of a Sundance dramedy, you’d be correct. Band Aid premiered at Sundance. But other than Fred Armisen as their nascent band’s drummer and the film’s comic relief, it leans more toward the painful than the twee.

This film is a product of its time with jokes about the R word being offensive that still repeatedly use the word to the trope of the white couple with a Black therapist to a Chris D’Elia jumpscare. But underneath its indie aesthetics and cringe moments is a woman screaming for escape.

Knowing that Lister-Jones will divorce her husband and come out as queer, completely recontextualizes what’s on-screen. Anna feels less like a woman from a bad sitcom and more like a woman trapped in a bad sitcom. The musings about men and women feel less like statements of fact and more like cries of heteropessimism. One of the couples’ songs goes, “I love you but I don’t want to fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” a line that once felt like a confession about the sad sexlessness of heterosexual marriages and now feels like the apologia of an unhappy queer woman.

All those years ago, I should’ve known that the film’s display of womanhood was, even for its creator, unfinished. Of course, plenty of cishet women are filled with self-loathing, but the way Anna sings about being a failure as a woman and hating her body pulses with a specific queer outsideness from the structures she aspires to belong. You can even sense Anna’s longing for another option, when she asks Ben if their outfits are “too heteronormative” before a performance. “Should we switch?” she asks, wishing to fuck with gender rather than only be fucked by it.

Toward the end of the film, after the couple’s nastiest fight, Ben looks for solace in his mom (Susie Essman). She describes in detail the hormonal differences that cause men to act one way and women to act another. Even 2017 Lister-Jones knows this moment is too neat. Ben calls his mom out for generalizing and she admits that she’s generalizing but it’s based on her marriage, her friends’ marriages, and her therapy clients’ marriages. “I can’t speak for the gays,” she adds. “Or the trans community,” Ben says. “All I know about them is from that show on Amazon.” “So good.” “So good.”

Here it was. An explicit acknowledgment of another way. An admission of ignorance, yes, but still an awareness that somewhere, for somebody else, there was a way out. When I watched this scene, I had just started to find my way there. Years later, Lister-Jones would too.

But the heterosexuality of Band Aid isn’t the heterosexuality of our world. There are plenty of straight couples who do not fall into these stereotypes and plenty of gay people who do. There are healthy relationships and toxic relationships — and everything in between — of every gender and numerical combination. And that’s because Band Aid isn’t about heterosexuality. It’s about the nightmare perception of heterosexuality perceived by a queer person trapped within its confines. Is Band Aid an indie dramedy? Or is it a horror movie? Leaving the theatre in June 2017, did I feel the nerves of a shoplifter? Or the nerves of a slasher’s final girl?

If you think of it that way, Anna is the movie’s final girl. Maybe Zoe Lister-Jones is too. We are all bloody in the back of a pickup truck, laughing with terror and glee, as an alternate heterosexual life waves its chainsaw in the ever-increasing distance.

Band Aid is now streaming on Tubi.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 515 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this analysis! Really made me think about the film differently, and I have not seen it again nor revisited it since I saw it in theaters. Can’t wait to watch what Zoe makes next.

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