Director Edgar Wright is primarily known as the guy that enjoys mashing comedy with different genres and sprinkling a bit of rhythmic beat in his films. The Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and Baby Driver has a type of direction that is kinetically charged to make anyone notice top tap in unison. I’m not going a hide the fact that I am a huge Edgar Wright fan, but skepticism did pop in my head when the director decided to try his hand at documentary filmmaking with The Sparks Brothers.
Joyously, I’m glad that my doubts were squashed as this documentary is a must-see for any Wright, music, or Sparks fan. Don’t know who they are? Trust me. You’re gonna want to.
The Sparks Brothers are what you would expect it to be about—a band called Sparks. Unknown to the masses, members Ron and Russell Mael have influenced or impacted artists from the likes of Beck, Neil Gaiman, Franz Ferdinand, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Björk, Flea, Steve Jones, and even DJ Lance Rock—yeah, that DJ Lance Rock. The doc follows the career-highs and lows of the brothers beginning in the late 60s to today and along that journey creating 25 studio and 12 compilation albums, 24 music videos, and 49 singles. Hold, on…yeah they just made another album just because they’re that talented.
I had never heard of the Sparks before seeing this documentary movie and I believe that was all for the better. The story of the Mael brothers is interesting, to say the least. Wright’s directions take a deep dive into the bands evolving sound and their wiliness to challenge themselves. From the jump, the director puts his signature comedic timing and creative flair to ease in people who are unaware of the band. Something as simple as asking 20 questions regarding who the Sparks are even got a laugh out of me.
Another aspect that showcases the in-depth direction is Wright’s ability to break down the importance of the Sparks discography and the meaning behind their lyrics. Now, he doesn’t go through every song but he allows the Mael brothers to reveal the poignant subtle nature and sometimes madness in their creation. It works out smoothly at times with edits and inserts of photos and footage that are enough to make this into a 140-minute doc. However, that’s where some of the issues come in.
The span of the Sparks mark on the musical world is vast but there are at times when the information came at me pretty fast. Normally, fast-moving momentum is justified in an Edgar Wright movie when the action picks up but it doesn’t work so well in documentary form. I found myself forgetting some of the information that was shown about the Mael brothers and their musical career because I wasn’t given time to absorb it. Honestly, I would’ve sat through a longer version of the doc—a la Ken Burns style—if Wright took that route.
A clear example of The Sparks Brothers needing the Ken Burns treatment occurs when the film takes a turn displaying one of the band’s massive tours. In 2008, the band began their Sparks Live Spectacular – 21 Albums in 21 Nights tour. It was a difficult feat for the brothers as they had to essentially remember every single note, tune, lyric, and recreate the magic of those albums in front of a live audience. It’s a challenge the Mael brothers sought out to accomplish that’s perfect for another documentary.
Wright’s love and passion for the band and the need to share their music with Millennials and Gen Zs are definitely worth a watch. The documentary was entertaining and is a great stepping-off point to explore Sparks’s discography. Seriously, you can find all their albums on Spotify and just hit shuffle. I found myself doing this whenever I need a pick-me-up in my day but I couldn’t help feel that Edgar Wright is somewhere probably smiling at the fact that he helped reintroduced the world to the Sparks.