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The Sparks Brothers – Movie Review

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The Sparks Brothers – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

So many music documentaries focus on the rise and fall and possible rise again of a musician. You get your collection of stories about drugs, law troubles and other problems that arise for a singer or a band. Thus, The Sparks Brothers comes across as rather refreshing in its presentation and in telling the story of the American band Sparks. There is very little conflict in the band’s history and so, the film primarily exists as a celebration of their work. Edgar Wright does give us the expected use of talking head interviews, but he tries to spice things up with animation and montages. The Sparks Brothers eventually starts to feel repetitive in its endless praise, but it’s still an intriguing story.

As someone not at all familiar with Sparks, this documentary works as a solid introduction to their work. Wright goes in chronological order, allowing for an easy understanding of how they evolved and played with their music. Ron and Russell Mael make for entertaining interview subjects, peppering their answers with a dry sense of humour. You sense the passion they have for their work in addition to their own confusion that they somehow became successful. Wright has assembled an impressive assortment of talking heads, including the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, Patton Oswalt, Mike Myers, Giorgio Moroder, Bjork, Jack Antonoff and Neil Gaiman. It seems like anyone who wanted to talk about their admiration for Sparks was invited to participate in this documentary.

For the most part, Wright keeps things moving along as the film jumps from one era to the next. Adding some further spice are some exceptionally animated sequences, including a humorous one involving stop-motion versions of John Lennon and Ringo Starr (voiced by frequent Wright collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). There is plenty of archival footage of their frequent television appearances, thus giving a snapshot at how music was promoted, both pre- and post-MTV. Their various music videos also provide a glimpse into the collective minds of Sparks. One can guess why anyone who came across their work would stop changing the channel.

The biggest failures that seemed to befall Sparks was a series of aborted film projects, including one with Tim Burton attached. Otherwise, their career seemed to have a very happy path. The documentary does eventually start repeating the same story beats, though. A lot of the film has them releasing a new album and then the interviewees talk about what made that album special. One wishes there was a bit more exploration at their methods, including why Ron had a toothbrush moustache for a while. This eventually starts to tire, especially with the movie’s excessive two hour and twenty-minute runtime. By the final third, it’s the funny responses from the Mael Brothers that keeps one’s interest.

The Sparks Brothers doesn’t play out like a normal music documentary and that’s fine. While it occasionally lands into too much endless praise, one can still feel how much Edgar Wright loves Sparks. That’s also part of what makes Wright such an entertaining director. Even in his narrative films, like Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you can feel his love for music, movies and video games. He wants share his love for his favourite things with the audience, allowing for an infectious quality in his work. The Sparks Brothers should give fans of the band plenty to appease them, while also introducing others to their unique output.

Stefan Ellison