The Sparks Brothers

Edgar Wright's love letter to Sparks sparkles when its use of archive footage lets the duo's talent speak for itself, but elsewhere this exhaustive, linear documentary feels like a screen adaptation of the band's Wikipedia page

Film Review by Lewis Porteous | 20 Jul 2021
  • The Sparks Brothers
Film title: The Sparks Brothers
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Edgar Wright, Tony Visconti, Jason Schwartzmann, Jane Wiedlin, Alex Kapranos, Beck, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Dan Palladino, Fred Armisen, Mike Myers, Todd Rundgren, Flea, Katie Puckrik, Thurston Moore, Björk, Andy Bell, April Richardson, Patton Oswalt, Giorgio Moroder
Release date: 30 Jul
Certificate: 15

Sparks are a band best known for their operatic glam rock earworms of the mid-70s, but whose storied career has seen brothers Ron and Russell Mael withstand shifting cultural forces to varying degrees of critical and commercial success. In his exhaustive documentary, Edgar Wright seeks to examine the duo’s staying power, influence and undimmed creative instincts, yet ultimately succumbs to the enormity of this task. In presenting a linear history of the group, The Sparks Brothers amounts to little more than a screen adaptation of their Wikipedia page.

Perhaps Wright was just too much of a fan to make the brutal edits needed to create a satisfying narrative structure, or to hold his subjects up to anything approaching scrutiny. Over 80 talking heads are at pains to stress Sparks’ genius but can only muster bland cliches about staying true to oneself. It’s surprising that a work as detailed as this – each of Sparks’ 25 albums are covered, even the rightfully neglected duds – should be so lacking in curiosity.

Where the movie shines is in its extensive use of archive footage, the Maels’ charisma and eccentricity standing out against the showbiz world in which they’ve gained an unlikely foothold. If you’re a fan of the group, this is your chance to watch some of your favourite YouTube clips on the big screen, while newcomers will feel like they’ve stumbled on a goldmine. Ultimately Sparks’ work speaks for itself and proves far more articulate than those attempting to tell the band’s story.

Released 30 Jul by Universal; certificate 15