Movie Review: ‘The Sparks Brothers’

Director: Edgar Wright

Plot: Ron and Russell Mael are the brothers at the front of Sparks, an oddball pop band with 50 years and almost 300 songs under their belt.

Review: I’m not the sort to rush out for a music documentary. Nothing against them, but it’s a wide reaching sub-genre that I’m not a member of the core audience for. Having Edgar Wright at the helm would be enough to get me into any theatre though, so tonight I went to see The Sparks Brothers. If there’s one word I would use to describe the experience, it would be ‘delightful’.

Although the marketing for this documentary claims that Sparks are the best unknown band in modern history, some of their material did manage to stir a few memories of half-watched weirdness of MTV or heard on the radio. Aside from some very faint recollection I have never heard of Sparks, making this a journey of discovery. We don’t delve into the personal lives of the Mael brother’s, at least not in any great detail, and that’s very much by design. Ron and Russell – appearing as themselves – maintain a degree of mystique about themselves but have a unique aesthetic that envelopes their music, album art, film work and fashion.

After recapping their childhood and initial influences we get into the career of the Mael brothers as members of the band Sparks. Over the course of 50 years we see them reinvent themselves musically, completely change the line-up of their band several times and relocate to different countries. Sometimes they’re successful and bringing in the crowds and sometimes they’re unable to get a song on the radio, but throughout the decades they maintain a degree of artistic integrity that millions of artists would only dream of. Their blend of pop, performance art and comedic yet bittersweet lyrics is entirely unique and it is almost surreal to see them remain consistent in their art for such a staggering long career. It’s an inspiration for any artist who has worried that what they’re doing isn’t going to appeal to anyone else.

Being a chronological recap of their career, and Sparks having 25 albums to date, there are times when the documentary feels episodic. We dip into each individual album and the story behind it, and it can begin feeling repetitive. The black-and-white clips of black-clad interviewees start to blur together after a time. Of course this could be an intentional move to reflect the nature of their song writing and by pointing it out I’m missing the point, but the experience remains the same. At least Wright has utilised a couple of different graphic and animation styles to keep things interesting.

We always try to look at documentary as a persuasive form, and in this case it would seem that they want to persuade us that Sparks is an amazing band. By that standard is a huge success, and I regret not having delved into Sparks prior to this. Sparks is immediately going onto our playlist. This is a delightful movie celebrating unique artists. And I want to see that Rollercoaster movie.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN