Review: The Sparks Brothers

It’s right that a documentary about two musicians driven by passion and individualism should be made by someone so positively determined to do the same. 4 stars.

(Image: 'The Sparks Brothers', image courtesy of IMDB)

Edgar Wright has garnered international attention with his unique films known for their strong sense of style and humour. His latest directorial effort and first venture into documentary tells the endearing story of the brothers (Ron and Russell) that formed and led the cult group Sparks.

It’s right that a documentary about two musicians driven by passion and individualism should be made by someone so positively determined to do the same. From Shaun of the Dead (2004) to Baby Driver (2017), Wright’s career has been defined by cool distinctiveness and smart style. Similarly, Sparks have consistently evolved in a musical journey through pop-rock, electro, attempted collaborations with Jacques Tati and Tim Burton – and now, a successful collaboration with Leos Carax. This electric duo (or trio) of like-minded individuals harmonise perfectly, as parallels between document and documentarian propel the film’s confident style.

Spanning the journey of 25 albums (still counting) the film captures a band known for what we don’t know about them – and Wright’s magic touch provides the cinematic sleight of hand able to grasp such a task. Pitching the perfect balance of what to reveal and what to hold back, the insight is often light but this heightens the mystery, as Wright leaves you with more questions than you had at the start.

Opening with a Q&A, the brothers’ sarcastic responses kill any preconceived notions of pretension and sting with youthful wit. Captured through creative vignettes of clay animation, cartoons, and talking heads featuring some of rock and pop’s most famous protagonists – many of which ironically have struggled to maintain the originality and relevance that Sparks ooze. Some names include rock stars (Beck, Flea, Steve Jones), comedy greats (Mike Myers), and well, Jonathon Ross. Optioning anecdotes and musical notes overdramatic private stories, The Sparks Brothers feels personal for different yet appropriate reasons. Sparks are a different entity to Ron and Russell – and, for the most part, this is a documentary about the band, not the brothers behind them.

‘The Wright Spark’, Ron Mael (Left), Russell Mael (Centre), Edgar (right), image courtesy of IMDB

In what is Wright’s most mature film, it is surprising that we are wrapped in a world of such childish glee, deriving directly from the musical muse that Sparks provide of the director. In fact, Wright features in the documentary with the appropriate label ‘fanboy’. In an energy-driven over two-hour avalanche of personal pop and passionate production; we are welcomed into an earnest collage of stylistic splendour, never over stylised, just entirely charming.

Whether a fan prior to viewing or not, anyone leaving this film is guaranteed to listen to Sparks as soon as they get home. An inviting, and wholly inspirational film for both viewer and creator alike, The Sparks Brothers is a testament to the importance of welcoming the unusual and striving to stand out. It’s honest and heartfelt but most importantly it has a real sense of humour.

Despite their age, Ron (75) and Russell (72) are both determined to continue their never-ending story. And, in a career plagued by the cult favourite tag – for Sparks this is not their denouement, this is their moment. Still fighting fit, the brothers are in a blissful period of proud retrospect and the documentary is happy to award a congratulatory pat on the back for the band. And, with the Wright touch, this is sometimes more of a big hug.

But this is exactly what the documentary and its subject deserved. And, after the year we’ve had, what’s better than a summer of sparks and soul across our cinema screens?