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Edgar Wright's The Sparks Brothers Review

Edgar Wright's The Sparks Brothers Review
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Previously reviewed as part of our Sundance 2021 coverage. 

PLOT: An in-depth look at the band Sparks, which consists of brother Russell and Ron Mael.

REVIEW: The first time I ever saw Sparks was in this 1977 disaster movie called Rollercoaster, which I caught on cable one day. They looked so outrageous, with Russell’s long flowing locks and Ron’s Hitler mustache that I assumed they were a made-up band, perhaps a creation of a coked-up seventies film exec. Only after watching it on TCM a few years ago and looking up the film on Wikipedia did I realize that yes, they are a real band and not only that - a legitimately GREAT band. From there I went down a Sparks rabbit hole, listening to a bunch of their songs on Spotify and I was tickled when I found out none other than Edgar Wright was making a feature-length documentary about them.

the sparks brothers Sundance review

Indeed, Edgar Wright isn’t just a Sparks fan, he’s a Sparks superfan, although he’s in very good company as the film makes clear via talking head interviews with everyone from Patton Oswalt to Flea to Fred Armisen. Although many assume they’re British because that’s where they’re the most popular, Russell and Ron are in fact to California dudes who’ve been active for fifty years and don’t show any signs of slowing down.

Russell is the band’s frontman, with him the good looking one that sings all of the songs, even if it turns out that Ron, the deadpan one at the keyboards with the toothbrush mustache is arguably the band’s voice - with him writing the songs. They’re an intriguing pair, with both still being thick as thieves despite being in their seventies. As the film shows, they still spend every day working together, and while they affectionately take digs at each other, you can tell that the brotherly love here is legit.

What’s super fascinating about their film is their complete and utter devotion to their art, with neither having married or had kids as they were too busy pushing the envelope with each new album, song, and tour. Never explosively popular and always niche, the film charts their careers, with the mid-seventies being the arguable heyday as they broke out in the UK with their single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us.” They weathered a lot of commercial flops, but their music had an uncanny ability to predict trends, with them cutting a synth album with Giorgio Moroder long before it became fashionable. Moroder himself says in awe “they were making the music of the future,” when they penned “The No. 1 Song in Heaven”, with the entire album going down as a cult classic that sounds remarkably modern.

But, Sparks also had a knack for maybe being too pioneering and early on trends, which coupled with their resistance to studio interference put their careers on hold for close to a decade (when asked to make “music that you can dance to”, they literally wrote a song and album called “Music That You Can Dance To”). They had a comeback in the nineties and to this day have a major cult following. They even recently wrote a musical called Annette that stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and is directed by Leos Carax (it was supposed to come out this year but was delayed by the pandemic).

Wright’s documentary, while a touch long at close to 2.5 hours, is a ton of fun, and it's hard not to love the Mael brothers, with everyone who’s worked with them going on record about what stand-up guys they are. Wright probably had enough material for a whole limited series, with certain episodes not delved into, such as when they composed the music for a Jean-Claude Van Damme/ Tsui Hark flop called Knock Off, but hopefully, there’s gonna be a director’s cut. Hopefully, this film “sparks” enough interest in them to lead to another tour, as I’d love to see these guys perform.

Source: JoBlo.com

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