The Sparks Brothers (CREDIT: Anna Webber/Focus Features)

Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, and Plenty of Their Biggest Fans

Director: Edgar Wright

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Language (That I Remember Being Pretty Mild, Honestly)

Release Date: June 18, 2021 (Theaters)

What separates a Behind the Music-style biography from a truly feature-worthy documentary? Attitude, for one thing. And Ron and Russell Mael (aka the pop/rock duo known as Sparks) have got plenty of attitude. A friendly attitude, that is! But inscrutable nonetheless. The Edgar Wright-directed The Sparks Brothers posits that you could look these brothers up on Wikipedia and still know nothing about them. That’s more than a bit of an exaggeration, as their actual Wiki page is a healthy length for a band that’s been around for 50+ years. (It’s about as long as, say, Edgar Wright’s.) But it becomes clear pretty quickly that that contention is hardly meant to be literal. The real story of Sparks is that they’ve remained perpetually under the radar despite their impressive influence and proflicacy to the point that plenty of music lovers have never heard of them. And even among their biggest fans, they are – and will probably forever be – a mystery.

The structure of this film is hardly groundbreaking as far as music documentaries (or documentaries in general) go. Vintage performance clips are mixed in with interviews of the musicians and their colleagues and fans. But that ostensible normalcy is perfectly fine, as the subjects themselves are just so confounding. They don’t appear to live on this planet Earth with the rest of us, or if they do, it’s within a different sort of dimension entirely. Really, how do you explain a Hitler mustache-sporting keyboard player and his moptopped singer brother that seemingly everybody loves and who have been at the forefront of so many of the major historical trends in popular music? If you’re Edgar Wright, you make a whole dang movie about them so that people like myself who never knew about them before can witness the wonderful world of Sparks.

One major thread running through The Sparks Brothers is the idea that people don’t take comedy in music very seriously. Performers who are decidedly comedic tend to be relegated to the novelty act heap. And indeed, the comedy is a major part of Ron and Russell’s appeal, which helps explain why some of the interviewees include the likes of such professional funny people as Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, and Scott Aukerman, as well as Comedy Music Extraordinaire himself, “Weird Al Yankovic.” As far as Sparks go, they haven’t exactly had a Yankovic-style career; instead, they’ve existed in some sort of no man’s land that seems like a parallel universe version of major rock ‘n’ rollers like Rolling Stones or Talking Heads or even Prince. This is not a tragedy, far from it. All signs point to them being quite content with the life and career they’ve lived. So check out their story, and I bet it’ll bring a smile to your face.

The Sparks Brothers is Recommended If You Like: Any of the popular music from the 60s to today

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sparks