The Sparks Brothers
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Featuring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Beck, Flea, Giorgio Moroder, Mike Myers, Fred Armisen, Neil Gaiman
“Gather round, children. Gather round. I’m going to tell you a bedtime story about this amazing musical duo, who’s produced 25 albums and some 350 songs with a career that has spanned most of the modern era. Yet, no one knows who they are.”
This is the central thesis of Edgar Wright’s spectacular “The Sparks Brothers.” No one knows who Ron and Russell Mael are, yet, if you search for them, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard a song or two of theirs.
Perfectly composed, the documentary starts as Russell Mael dryly states, “We are Sparks.” Brother Ron adds a sense of stoic attitude, “Dude,” with a smile. And, with that, we’re off to learn more about who these artists are, what makes them tick, and why Edgar Wright was the right director for this documentary.
Wright astutely shares the interviews with us in black and white. There’s a formality about this that fits the brothers whose act is simply known as Sparks; they are gentlemen with a wicked sense of humor and very playful nature.
“Are you brothers?”
“We are brothers,” states Russell matter-of-factly. “How did you first meet,” asks Wright with a gleam in his voice.
Ron chimes in, “We are brothers,” as he rolls his eyes.
The duo is likable, and Wright does an amazing job of unfolding their history and their connectedness. Ron and Russell can read each other; they know when the other ends a sentence and to pick up the same thought in the same breath. It was almost as if the brothers were joined at the hip.
Fortunately, they’re not.
They’ve attracted a bevy of artists, either musical colleagues or film stars; surprisingly, a good number of comedians who’ve done stand-up and know how to improvise.
Yes, that’s a very good adjective to use, kids: improvise.
As Ron and Russell talk about their childhood and the experiences that fueled their creative energies, we see two extremely vulnerable personalities. Yet, they are extremely serious, and the business has taught them how to stand up for themselves, and I think more importantly, where they’re wanted.
That’s perhaps too strong a reaction on my part. Still, the interesting thing about Sparks’ career is that even though they started in California and found modest success, only after reformatting their group and image that they found even more success in Europe, where their playfulness captured the attention of music fiends.
“The most important note about this bedtime story, kids, is that, even in the face of adversity, Sparks never gave up.” Through all the black and white poise, the hijinks, the brutal reality of Hollywood, Sparks persevered, weathering a six-year drought but coming out smelling like roses.
“The Sparks Brothers” also comes out smelling like roses. This is truly a love letter to all those who keep the faith, and Edgar Wright proved again that his filmmaking style bridges documentary with a feature film.
So, while I tuck the kids in “Stravinsky’s Only Hit,” you all good people run to your theater this weekend to catch Edgar Wright’s “The Sparks Brothers.” You’ll thank me for it.