The Sparks Brothers

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Sparks Brothers
"Wright doesn't try to reinvent the documentary form, but draws on the Maels' energy, matching their playfulness and incorporating both stop-motion and a decoupage styles of animation into their back story." | Photo: Jake Polonsky

Edgar Wright takes his cue from Sparks - aka brothers Ron and Russell Mael - for this sparky and inventive documentary about their band's formation and constant reinvention.

A band whose dry sense of humour is evident both in their lyrics and their punning titles  - with albums including Angst In My Pants and Kimono My House - they fit the sort of offbeat humour Wright has brought to the fore in filims Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz like hand in glove. Their sense of humour is something that Wright puts front and centre from the start, with a series of questions, including, "Are you really brothers" and, "Are you an English band" - I mean no disrespect in saying this, but their way of deadpanning off one another would make them translate very well into Muppets.

For those not familiar with them - and you don't need to have heard of them to enjoy this high-energy film - Ron is the songwriter and keyboard player who spent much of the Seventies sporting a Charlie Chaplin/Hitler moustache and looking vaguely menacing, while Russell (think Marc Bolan with more exquisitely chiselled cheekbones), was the sort of good looking vocalist destined to be a cover star.

Wright doesn't try to reinvent the documentary form, but draws on the Maels' energy, matching their playfulness and incorporating both stop-motion and a decoupage styles of animation into their back story. This sits alongside archive photos and footage and interviews with the pair and a stream of fans, from Beck to Mike Myers and Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and John Taylor through to himself, just in case we were in any doubt as to how much he loves them.

The story unfolds chronologically, from the loss of their dad when Ron, the older of the two, now 75, was 11 and Russell was eight. Wright ensures that the film wears its quirkiness lightly, stitching their love of coffee into deeper considerations of the band's progression from the not very successful Halfnelson to the British embrace of them as Sparks and their constant search for reinvention.

The director and his contributors make a good case for them being well ahead of the game, especially when it came to electronica and dance music, with a who's who of the Eighties lining up to give them credit. They've been so far ahead of the game, in fact, that they've often been accused of being copycats. Although firmly embedded with the boys, there is a consideration of the areas where they haven't had success, such as a failed attempt to make Mai, the Psychic Girl into a musical with Tim Burton - which sounds like a hell of a missed opportunity - and Wright does spare a thought for those band members who found themselves jettisoned by the wayside of the brothers' success, collateral damage of their reinvention.

There's plenty of intricate detail for Sparks fans, while the broad sweep is infectious enough to ensure newcomers will, at the very least, be heading to Youtube to watch more of their back catalogue afterwards.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2021
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How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Take a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers Ron & Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band's favorite band.

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael

Year: 2021

Runtime: 135 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Sundance 2021

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