'The Sparks Brothers' Review: A Delightful, Cheeky Portrait Of An Eccentric, Eclectic Pop Rock Duo [Sundance 2021]

Despite having a career that spans over 50 years and 25 albums, there's a decent chance you've never heard of Sparks. However, the pop rock duo comprised of Ron and Russell Mael and an ever-changing band behind them have undoubtedly influenced many of the synth-pop, new wave, post-punk, and alternative musicians you've loved over the years. Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Nirvana, Beck, Franz Ferdinand, and even "Weird Al" Yankovic have all been touched by Sparks, and in the enlightening, wonderfully playful documentary The Sparks Brothers, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) wants to make sure you are too.

The Sparks Brothers kicks off with a wave of praise and reverence from the likes of Mike Myers, Beck, Fred Armisen, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Todd Rundgren, Jason Schwartzman, Patton Oswalt, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many more familiar faces and names. But all of these people already know and love Sparks. For everyone else out there, the film clears up some misconceptions and and answers frequently asked questions about the band.

First, Sparks should never be referred to as The Sparks or even the Sparks Brothers. Why is the movie called The Sparks Brothers? Because Edgar Wright likes to have a little fun, and Ron and Russell Mael have a good sense of humor. This is the kind of cheeky attitude you'll find throughout the entire documentary, which makes for a perfect bridge between the surprisingly comedic sensibilities of many catchy Sparks songs and the reverential cinematic satire of the director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End.

Even if you can't name a Sparks song of the top of your head, this documentary is an enlightening and entertaining chronicle of a band that Wright describes through his own voiceover as being "successful, underrated, hugely influential, and overlooked all at the same time." This is the story of a band who marched to the beat of their own drum. They also happened to march to the beat of many different drummers who joined the band throughout their long-running and ongoing musical career. You'll hear from them and a variety of other collaborators who were thrilled to be part of their musical history and devastated when it was over, often times as quickly as it began.

All these iterations of Sparks have resulted in several comebacks over the years, despite never really going away. Even during a years-long drought, Sparks never stopped creating, and they were often ahead of their time even if it seems like they were always in the shadow of the bands who became more famous by emulating their style. Any other band might be discouraged, but Sparks just marched onward and has persisted over and over again. Their passion is infectious, and when it's combined with Wright's admiration for the band, you get a documentary that's full of love and inspiration.

Edgar Wright also tells the story of Sparks with an engaging array of visuals, ranging from the black and white interviews with subjects talking candidly straight into the lens to a variety of animated sequences and lively stock footage that adds some color to the proceedings. You'll want to keep your ear to the ground for Wright's frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as two other musical icons appearing in animated form. Wright also has a little fun with the documentary medium here and there, including a brief interlude of visual puns to introduce the movie and a little but of fun with the lower-third text that introduces each of the documentary's interview subjects. Whenever you see this movie, make sure you stick through the credits for a runthrough of some additional Sparks facts that may or may not be true.

If there's one complaint that I have about The Sparks Brothers, it's the runtime clocking in just under 2 hours and 20 minutes. Granted, Sparks has had a long and decorated career that warrants a thorough dive. But because the band has so many restarts over the years, it does feel a little repetitive. Thankfully, there's a constant energy that comes from Sparks' music, as well as the enthusiasm from everyone interviewed for the film. Some variation also comes from tangents that take us outside of the Sparks musical endeavors into some of their attempted efforts in cinema, including an abandoned adaptation of the manga Mai, the Psychic Girl that was almost a Tim Burton movie.

The Sparks Brothers follows in the footsteps of many music documentaries that came before it. But with Edgar Wright behind the camera (and occasionally in front of it), this portrait of Sparks is just as lighthearted and delightful as the music you'll be tapping your toe to throughout the entire movie. As soon as the movie is over, you'll probably be adding Sparks songs to your streaming playlists and hoping that this won't be the last time that Edgar Wright feels compelled to give us a deep dive into one of his favorite musical acts./Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10