From the very first lines in “Band Aid,” Zoe Lister-Jones lays it right out there that her main characters are Jewish.
Arguing over the trivial matter of unwashed dishes in the sink, Ben (played by Adam Pally) and Anna (Lister-Jones) invoke the Holocaust in their irrational — and very funny, spat.
“I was raised with Judaism being very much part of the fabric of my life, so for the most part I write Jewish protagonists,” says writer-director-star Lister-Jones, punctuating the conversation with bursts of laughter. “It’s rare that you see Jewish protagonists in romantic comedies outside of Woody Allen, but he was always dating non-Jewish women. So to see a Jewish partnership, even if it is somewhat peripheral to the story, imbues a specific sensibility in terms of humor and the cultural backdrop that the characters share.”
“Band Aid” is a touching comedy about a childless, unhappily married pair of thwarted 30-something Los Angeles artists. When Ben and Anna hit on the notion of expressing their resentments and frustrations to each other in song instead of speech, they start a garage band that requires, and thrives on, their collaboration.
“Relationship movies have stood the test of time but they constantly need to be reinvented,” Lister-Jones said in an interview June 6 at a San Francisco hotel. “So this one is told through a new lens, which involves music, and focuses on why couples stay together and what it takes to choose to stay together, which I hadn’t seen on screen.”
“Band Aid” opens Friday, June 9 around the Bay Area.
Lister-Jones’ mother is the artist, filmmaker and writer Ardele Lister; her father is photographer and media artist Bill Jones (who converted to Judaism). While there are plenty of artists in Hollywood who describe their upbringing as culturally Jewish, Lister-Jones was raised in a religious household.
Her mother was president of the Brooklyn, New York, shul the family attended (Lister-Jones describes it as “Conservative egalitarian synagogue with a focus on Renewal), and she kept a kosher home.
“My mom has for many years toyed with going to rabbinical school,” Lister-Jones confides. “She does have a very rabbinic quality, so I was raised with a lot of that talmudic analysis. She’d always come to synagogue with supplements and readings and things to shake things up.”
Lister-Jones, who is best known for her recurring roles in the TV series “Delocated,” “Whitney,” “Friends With Better Lives,” “New Girl” and “Life in Pieces,” fondly recalls that her family went to synagogue every Saturday.
Relationship movies have stood the test of time but they constantly need to be reinvented.
“I really loved it, it never felt like a chore for me. It still holds a very special and nurturing place, rather than a lot of my friends who are still dealing with their allergies to Judaism as Jews,” she says.
Pally presumably does not fall into that category, either. When he appears shirtless in “Band Aid,” the name Asher, tattooed in Hebrew, is plainly visible on his chest.
“I don’t think I even knew until two days before we started shooting when we did a costume fitting, and I saw him by accident with his shirt off,” Lister-Zones recalls with a chuckle. “I knew Adam had some tattoos but I didn’t know he had his Hebrew name tattooed on his chest. But it definitely does up the Jewish factor,” she says with a laugh.
“It sort of makes his character unapologetically Jewish in a way that I love. It’s his Hebrew name and it comes from his grandfather, so there’s just something very [resonant]—even though it’s a tattoo, so there are questions around that in the faith. But I think that there is something about it that is about tradition in this weird way, even though it’s breaking a lot of the rules of [Jewish] tradition.”
“Band Aid” marks Lister-Jones’s directorial debut after her husband, Daryl Wein, took the reins of a trio of indie films “Breaking Upwards,” “Lola Versus” and “Consumed,” all of which Lister-Jones wrote or co-wrote and starred in.
While it’s the rare filmmaker that can take on the triple roles of writing, acting and directing a film, Lister-Jones found the process deeply gratifying. Asked if she’d be willing to direct someone else’s screenplay, perhaps for a Jewish-themed project like a remake of “The Ten Commandments” or the story of Esther, she quickly answered in the affirmative.
“My Hebrew name is Esther,” she says with another bright laugh.