This review originally ran as part of our Sundance 2021 coverage.
The Pitch: Sparks has been around for just shy of 50 years, and have influenced just about every major pop act since the 1970s — from New Order to Weird Al Yankovic. They’re one of the greatest bands of all time, but you probably haven’t heard of them. That is, of course, unless you’re Edgar Wright, pop culture vagabond and Sparks superfan, who brings his giddy, high-tilt cinematic energy to a two-and-a-half-hour chronicle of two California-born brothers who made it to the top of the pop charts, and have spent the last several decades reinventing themselves with every new album and experimentation.
Along the way, he talks to artists and fans who’ve grown up with their work (Jason Schwartzman, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Fred Armisen), and illuminates the deeply-weird duo’s quixotic quest for artistic integrity without losing their sense of humor and mystique along the way.
Introducing… Sparks: Ron and Russell Mael are enigmas, and they like it that way. You see it in their style of performance — Russell the pretty-boy matinee idol, swaying and singing with his perfectly-calibrated falsetto, Ron the comically stone-faced Chaplin figure (complete with mustache) who writes the songs — and in the tenor of their lyrics.
They’ve always been musical pranksters, poking a finger in the eye of the very music industry they’ve floated in and out of for decades, from the baroque disco-rock of their biggest hit “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” to later works like the cheeky “Music You Can Dance To” and “T*ts”, all of which buzz with the complicated energy (and stamina) of They Might Be Giants.