In ‘The Sparks Brothers,’ Edgar Wright Will Make You A Ron and Russell Mael Fan — Sundance Review

Edgar Wright has earned a lot of good will with fans of his movies. After Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, The World’s End and Baby Driver, fans will follow Wright, within reason, to wherever he is interested. In this case, Wright is a fan of the band Sparks and wants to introduce you to the duo Ron and Russell Mael.

The Sparks Brothers
L-R: Russell and Ron Mael | Sundance Institute

Ron and Russell Mael ARE ‘The Sparks Brothers’

Wright’s documentary, The Sparks Brothers, gives a complete history of the Maels. Two and a quarter hours may seem like a lot for a documentary, but it’s not much time at all to encompass 50 years of music. Sparks isn’t a straightforward band either.

Wright interviews Sparks’ musical contemporaries, celebrity and non-celebrity fans. Then he mixes archival footage and original animation to tell the story of the Maels. Their music was irreverent and didn’t quite fit into any one genre. The Maels were enigmatic characters, Ron with a mustache that could be likened to Hitler’s. They only slightly break character in their interview with Wright. 

The Edgar Wright style in ‘The Sparks Brothers’

Wright still brings an energetic style to the documentary format. His editing remains kinetic and animation breaks up talking heads and archival footage. Some of the footage itself is plenty entertaining. When Dick Clark interviewed Sparks, the Maels stymied him in entertaining ways.

Edgar Wright Sparks Brothers Q&A
Edgar Wright and the Mael brotheres | ASCAP/ASCAP via Getty Images

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When Wright does the talking head interviews, he makes them irreverent like Sparks’ music. He films interview subjects in black and white, and their captions could either be accurate identifications, or irreverent signifiers. He labels Mike Meyers “Canadian” and two Duran Duran members as each one Duran. Wright even treats his own interview the same way. 

Making everyone a Ron and Russell Mael fan 

The Sparks Brothers conveys the appeal of the Maels’ music. Even if it’s not for the viewer, can appreciate who it is for when you hear artists discuss Sparks’ influence or simply give an aesthetic analysis. They can be emotional too, discussing the Maels’ work ethic even in their down times.

Ron and Russell Mael
L-R: Ron Mael and Russell Mael | Lester Cohen/Getty Images for BMG

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The film also tracks the evolution of their music. By the second half of The Sparks Brothers, you’ve heard enough of the Maels’ music to recognize the differences. 

Honestly, if you follow Sparks long enough, there’s going to be something for you. If you didn’t like their early stuff, you might gravitate towards “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” or “Tips for Teens.” And if you don’t like their new stuff, they have a large enough body of work that you can go back to their classic sound.