January 27, 2020

Zoe Lister-Jones puts ‘Band Aid’ on wounds of relationships

At the beginning of Zoe Lister-Jones’ debut feature film, “Band Aid,” a married couple bickers about the dishes piled up in their kitchen sink. Ben (Adam Pally) insists that just one of the plates is his; Anna (Lister-Jones) asks if he’s blind or “just retarded.”

He retorts that she’s a “dish Nazi.” She calls that “super offensive” because she comes from a “long line of Holocaust survivors.” Ben says that’s impossible because survivors constitute just one generation. And, he adds, using the word “retarded” is equally offensive.

Anna and Ben, both artists and musicians, continue to fight throughout the comedy-drama — until they discover that writing and performing rock songs about their tiffs proves healing for their marriage.

Lister-Jones, 34, who also stars in the CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces,” certainly can relate. Her own relationships, which she was open and forthcoming about during an interview at a Sherman Oaks café, have been the inspiration for a number of her creative projects.

She said she’s been with her husband, writer-director Daryl Wein, since they met while studying drama together at New York University. Like most couples, they’ve had their ups and downs, which they explored in two previous film collaborations, “Breaking Upwards” (2009) and “Lola Versus” (2012).

They’ve been to couples counseling. And, yes, they’ve had fights that began with trivialities such as whose turn it was to do the dishes.

“I just think that relationships are endlessly confounding,” Lister-Jones said with a laugh. “My parents split up when I was 9, so this movie is very much about what it means to stay in a relationship and why couples choose to stay in long-term relationships. It’s been a question that I’ve always grappled with.

“This movie [also] is specifically about the way that couples fight … and the different ways that men and women communicate. Generally speaking, men can much more easily compartmentalize their emotions and women tend to hang on to things that have hurt or angered them. And that can create a lot of conflict when you’re sharing a domestic space.”

Lister-Jones said she chose to make the couple in “Band Aid” Jewish (albeit nominally so) because, “I draw on personal experiences in my writing, and [Judaism is] part of the fabric of my life. In this film, especially, it’s integral to the way that this couple communicates, mostly in terms of their humor.”

Lister-Jones’ mother, Ardele Lister, a video designer, is an Ashkenazi Jew, while her father, Bill Jones, a photographer and media artist, converted to Judaism before their marriage. She grew up in a kosher home in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she attended Shabbat services weekly at the Park Slope Jewish Center, a Conservative egalitarian synagogue. When the actress moved to Los Angeles five years ago, she found the same kind of close-knit Jewish community at IKAR.

As a very young woman, Lister-Jones mostly dated Jewish men “because there was a kind of tribal attraction,” she said. When her first love broke up with her, she turned her devastation into an off-off-Broadway monologue, “Codependence is a Four-Letter Word,” in which she portrayed 11 different characters struggling with heartbreak.

She met Wein when she was 21 and he was 19. Though their bond quickly became serious, she suggested opening up the relationship about two years in. Wein felt hurt at the time, she recalled.

“But it felt intimidating to think of this as forever when we were still so young,” she said. “It started actually just by choosing days when we wouldn’t see each other, because otherwise one person would be insulted when the other would say, ‘I want the night off.’ Then it evolved to being able to see other people on those days off and not talking about it.

“For the majority of that year, neither of us thought the other was doing anything, naively. But when I started to understand that he was, I was surprised by my own jealousy.”

By the end of that year, Lister-Jones suggested closing the relationship again, and while he was reluctant at first, the couple did again become monogamous. They were married in a Jewish ceremony conducted by Rabbi Susan Goldberg, now of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, in 2013.

Along the way, Lister-Jones and Wein worked out their feelings about their previously open relationship by writing and starring in “Breaking Upwards,” in which they played fictionalized versions of themselves.

“Lola Versus” was in some ways a follow-up to that movie, Lister-Jones said. In that film, Greta Gerwig portrays a woman who finds herself single again after her fiancé dumps her just weeks before their wedding. The movie was prompted by Lister-Jones’ discussions with Wein about how different their dating experiences were during their experiment with non-monogamy.

“His were really fun and easy … but I was emotionally tortured by most of the men that I was with,” she said. “And it just felt like there was this epidemic of amazing single women in New York City who were kind of being run around by men. And so Lola, the protagonist, was the Everywoman for me at that moment in my life, experiencing some of those traumas and then finding herself as an independent woman.”

Lister-Jones and Wein collaborated on a third film together, 2015’s “Consumed,” which tackles issues surrounding the use of GMOs — a distinct departure from their previous movies. They also worked on writing TV projects for hire, which Lister-Jones eventually found less than rewarding, so she decided to write, direct and star in her own project, “Band Aid.”

Lister-Jones, also a musician, wrote all the indie rock style songs that the fictional couple pen and perform in the film. She also hired an all-female crew to combat some of the limitations women encounter in Hollywood.

Throughout the film, the dripping faucet in the couple’s kitchen sink — the one where all those unwashed dishes are stacking up — serves as a symbol of what’s wrong with their marriage.

“It’s a metaphor for all the repairs that constantly need attention in long-term relationships,” Lister-Jones said. “When that repair is fixed, another one will generally pop up. … This film acknowledges that relationships are flawed and constantly in need of tending.”

“Band Aid” opens in theaters on June 2.