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Edgar Wright’s Fandom Pays Off in “The Sparks Brothers” (Review)

First things first: you don’t need to be familiar with the band Sparks to have a great time with Edgar Wright’s fantastic new documentary.

Before watching it, the extent of my musical knowledge about them came from enjoying their 1983 single “Cool Places,” a duet with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s. Hell, I didn’t even know they were brothers or from America.

Ron and Russell Mael have been making music together since the late 1960s and have bounced around to so many different record labels over the decades, but never found much chart success here in the U.S. They have been decidedly more successful in Europe, although still experienced a wide range of highs and lows when it has come to critical reception and sales.

British filmmaker Edgar Wright (“Shaun Of The Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) labels himself on screen during the documentary as a “fanboy.” His passion for all facets of their career has manifested itself in a truly remarkable film that perfectly illustrates why commercial success is not a strong barometer of quality.

The brothers themselves are very open and willing to talk about their history in great detail. All the interviews throughout the film are conducted in black and white which makes for a striking juxtaposition against the often wildly colorful footage of them performing on shows like “American Bandstand” and “Top Of The Pops.”

Wright intercuts conversations with the Maels against former band members, friends, and lots of fans, those famous and otherwise. He takes great care to deliver insights from other musicians like Beck, Todd Rundgren, Flea, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, Steve Jones, and even Bjork, but there are a lot comedians like Mike Myers, Fred Armisen, April Richardson, and Scott Aukerman in the mix as well. It’s a broad spectrum of devotion and genuine appreciation that puts their musical output into great context for fans and newcomers alike.

“The Sparks Brothers” opens in theaters nationwide today. If it follows the model that Universal and Focus Featrures have been using throughout the year, I expect it to pop up on Premium VOD for rental at home from all digital providers in about three weeks.

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