Review: ‘This Is a Film About the Black Keys,’ starring Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney

March 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” (Photo by Jim Herrington)

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys”

Directed by Jeff Dupre

Culture Representation: The documentary film “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) who are all connected in some way to the American rock duo the Black Keys and who discuss the band.

Culture Clash: Black Keys members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, who have very different personalities from each other, go through their ups and downs in their careers and their personal lives.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of Black Keys fans “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” will appeal primarily to people who like watching documentaries that are similar to “Behind the Music.”

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is a competent but not outstanding documentary that comes across as a “Behind the Music” type of promotional showcase. It has candid interviews and great archival footage, but the film has some obvious omissions in the Black Keys’ story. The documentary raises some questions that never get answered. However, the behind-the-scenes footage makes the documentary worth watching, even if you know that the filmmakers could have made more courageous choices in how this story was told.

Directed by Jeff Dupre, “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival, about a month before the release of the Black Keys’ 12th studio album “Ohio Players.” The calculated timing of both the movie’s premiere and the album’s release has “Behind the Music” influences written all over it, since most artists who’ve agreed to do a “Behind the Music” episode do it to promote a new album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it usually means that the artists won’t allow the most unflattering aspects of their lives to be explored in depth in whatever documentary they’re doing to coincide with the release of a new album.

“This is a Film About the Black Keys” follows the “Behind the Music” rock band biography narrative formula, almost beat by beat: A band comes from humble beginnings, slowly builds up a fan base from releasing albums and touring, has breakthrough mainstream success, and then gets caught up in the pitfalls of fame—usually having to do with huge egos, money and substance abuse. “This is a Film About the Black Keys” checks all of those boxes.

The Black Keys have a few characteristics that set them apart from most rock artists: They are a duo when most rock artists are either solo artists or are part of band with at least three members. The Black Keys members—lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney—also don’t have a typical rock band origin story of a bunch of people forming a band because they were already friends or because they went through a lengthy search to find the right people to be in the band.

Instead, Auerbach (born in 1979) and Carney (born in 1980) say that they were more like friendly acquaintances than close friends when they started making music together. Carney and Auerbach both grew up on the same street and went to the same high school in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. The documentary dutifully covers biographical information that can be found on the Internet about the Black Keys. Carney and Auerbach are interviewed, as well as some of their family members, business associates and music industry fans.

When Auerbach and Carney were students at Firestone High School in Akron, Auerbach was a popular athlete but his real passion was music, having learned to play guitar from the age of 7. Carney says of his self-described nerdy teenage years: “I couldn’t get a girl to talk to me, so I got into rock and roll.” The “opposites attract” theme is repeated throughout the movie: Carney says he’s the extrovert who prefers to handle the duo’s business affairs and do interviews, while Auerbach is the introvert who prefers to do most of the duo’s songwriting and musical arranging.

Something that Auerbach and Carney have in common is that they both have several musicians in their families. Auerbach’s mother Mary Little says that most of her siblings are musicians. Auerbach’s cousin Robert Quine is a well-known avant-garde rock musician. Early on in their relationship, Auerbach and Carney also bonded over their admiration of musician R.L. Burnside.

As teenagers, Auerbach and Carney would occasionally play music together, but they were in different social circles in high school. Carney and Auerbach both attended the University of Akron but would eventually drop out to become full-time musicians. Auerbach says that he would skip classes in college so he could spend time in his room to play guitar. Carney describes his college years as still being at a freshman after three years of college.

Auerbach and Carney ended up forming a musical partnership in 2001. It happened after Carney had been hired to be a recording engineer for Auerbach’s band. The other musicians in the band didn’t show up, so Auerbach and Carney began jamming together and decided they could make music together as a duo. Auerbach says, “Right away, Pat and I bonded over our love of recording.” He says that they both still prefer recording over touring.

After some debate over what to call their musical act, they chose the Black Keys. The name was inspired by a friend named Alfred McMoore, who would sometimes call people the “black keys” of a piano if he was upset with them. Auerbach says in the documentary about the duo’s decision to become full-time musicians without having a record deal or a steady income: “There was no back-up plan. We had to make it work.”

By their own admission, the Black Keys have communication problems with each other. Auerbach and Carney say that they have always had difficulty talking about their problems. They say that they usually deal with their personal issues with each other by trying to ignore them. However, it causes resentment over time, which has led to periods of Auerbach and Carney being estranged from each other.

Nowhere is this communication problem more evident in the documentary than in a sequence showing Carney at a soundcheck for a Black Keys arena show while Auerbach is busy shopping for clothes. Carney is furious that his bandmate isn’t there for the soundcheck and rants about how unprofessional Auerbach is for not telling Carney and other people where Auerbach is during this soundcheck.

Meanwhile, Auerbach (accompanied by a few members of his entourage) is shown trying on high-priced clothing at a store and being treated like rock star. When the time comes for the Black Keys to do the concert, Auerbach and Carney are standing next to each backstage but don’t talk about Auerbach’s soundcheck absence that was upsetting to Carney. For this concert, Auerbach is wearing the jacket that he bought at the store.

The Black Keys’ slow and steady rise to Grammy-winning, arena-rock success is a familiar tale of “alternative rock” artists who want a lot of praise, recognition and money for what they do, but they don’t want to be perceived as “sell-outs” or fake. They also want to be able to experiment musically without alienating their core fan base. John Peets, a former manager of the Black Keys, says of the Black Keys’ musical outlook: “They are a fiercely independent band.”

The Black Keys were independent in the beginning of their career, having signed with a series of independent labels and producing their own albums. The band began getting positive reviews for their first album—2002’s “The Big Come Up”—and toured relentlessly for their albums. Carney did a lot of the duo’s bus driving and tour managing in the early days of the Black Keys. He’s the raconteur who is more likely than Auerbach to tell stories in the documentary about their experiences with dingy motels, low-paying gigs, and travel mishaps on the road.

In the early years of the Black Keys, their personal lives of the Black Keys also had parallels to their professional lives. Auerbach and Carney both got married to their first wives around the same time: Carney married his high-school sweetheart Denise Grollmus in 2007. Auerbach married Stephanie Gonis in 2008. Both marriages ended in very messy and public divorces—Carney and Grollmus split in 2009, while Auerbach and Gonis broke up in 2013, with their divorce becoming final in 2014. In the documentary, the divorces are described in vague terms that essentially amount to saying “irreconcilable differences” or “growing apart.”

The details of these divorces are left out of the documentary, but there is a little bit of acknowledgement in the movie about how these divorces affected the Black Keys’ work: By Carney’s own admission, he began drinking alcohol a lot more during his divorce from Grollmus, thereby making the recording of the Black Keys’ 2010 album “Brothers” much more difficult. It’s also mentioned that Auerbach’s divorce from Gonis had a big influence on the emotionally raw and wounded lyrics of the Black Keys’ 2014 album “Turn Blue,” the album that nearly broke up the Black Keys because it was made during a low point in the relationship between Carney and Auerbach. In retrospect, Carney says that during this tumultuous time, the Black Keys probably should have gone on vacation instead of doing an album and tour.

Gonis is the only wife or ex-wife interviewed in the documentary. Her comments that are in the movie mostly describe when her relationship with Auerbach was going well. However, she says their divorce happened because she and Auerbach drifted apart because of all the time he spent away from home. Gonis jokes about their “shotgun wedding” and says that although Auerbach is a loving father, she felt like a single mother raising their daughter Sadie Little Auerbach, who was born in 2008 and is seen briefly in archival footage.

The documentary does not mention any of the sordid information that was widely reported about the divorce filings, such as Gonis’ allegations that Auerbach abused her, or Auerbach’s allegations that Gonis attempted suicide twice in one day. Auerbach was married to Jen Goodall from 2015 to 2019. He is not forthcoming about what really happened in the failures of his two marriages. It isn’t too surprising that Auerbach is unwilling to talk about his personal problems in a biographical documentary that is largely about his life, since he is frequently described in the documentary as being secretive and mysterious, even by people who’ve known him for a very long time.

A turning point for the Black Keys came in 2007, when they collaborated with a pop music producer for the first time: Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Joseph Burton. At the time, it seemed to be an unlikely collaboration: Danger Mouse was a Grammy-winning hitmaker best known for Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 R&B/pop smash “Crazy.” However, Carney says he fell in love with the song, which he describes as “cinematic.” The result of the first collaboration between the Black Keys and Danger Mouse was the Black Keys’ 2008 album “Attack & Release.”

The Black Keys went on to get an even larger audience with their 2010 mainstream breakthrough album “Brothers,” which featured the hit “Tighten Up.” It was the first album the Black Keys released after the duo relocated to Nashville and after collaborating again with Danger Mouse. The Black Keys won three Grammys because of “Brothers” and won another three Grammys for their 2011 album “El Camino,” which featured the hit “Lonely Boy.”

Although Carney comes across as more socially confident than Auerbach, Carney admits that behind the scenes, he’s had longtime insecurities about his place in the Black Keys, because Auerbach has often treated him as a backup musician instead of as an equal. One of the biggest rifts that they had was in the mid-2010s, when Auerbach recorded his first solo album without telling Carney, who thinks that this secrecy was a betrayal to Carney. Auerbach says in the documentary that the reason for the secrecy was that Carney was “impossible to be around” at that time. Perhaps one of the more honest moments in the documentary is Carney expressing his fear that he is replaceable in the Black Keys.

The Black Keys’ personal problems within themselves, with each other and in their marriages get uneven exploration in the documentary. Carney’s drinking problem that severely affected the recording of “Brothers” is mentioned but somewhat glossed over. No one comes right out and says that Carney is an alcoholic, but that’s something the documentary filmmakers should have asked Carney. The documentary also doesn’t mention if Carney every got professional help for his drinking problem.

Carney’s marital problems are also described in generic terms or not mentioned at all. He admits that his divorce from first ex-wife Grollmus was bitter, but he barely mentions his second ex-wife Emily Ward, whom he was married to from 2012 to 2016. Carney’s third wife is Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Michelle Branch, whom he married in 2019. Their scandalous separation in 2022 and subsequent reunion—Branch publicly accused him of infidelity, filed for divorce, and then decided to call off the divorce—are not mentioned at all. In the documentary, Carney is briefly shown spending time with his and Branch’s son Rhys James (born in 2018), who appears in some Black Keys rehearsal footage.

A documentary does not need to go the tabloid route and air a lot of dirty laundry. But when a celebrity documentary is made about a celebrity’s life, and several people in the documentary say the celebrity’s personal problems directly affected the celebrity’s work, it behooves the documentary filmmakers to get more details and introspection from the people who caused the problems or were directly affected by the problems. It’s especially noticeable that the documentary doesn’t seem to care to mention if Carney got professional help for what many people describe in the documentary as his alcohol addiction.

In a director’s statement in the movie’s production note, Dupre says about the making of this documentary: “I was going to need Pat and Dan to tell me everything. What they told me first was that they weren’t always very good at communicating with each other. Would they open up to me? I soon realized I wouldn’t need to lean on them quite as much as I thought I would because their music would speak volumes if we let it.”

Dupre further commented in the statement: “Want to know who they were and what they were feeling at every step of the way? Listen to their songs. That became the operating principle in the editing room: as much as possible, let their music tell the story and drive the narrative. … Pat and Dan did open up and come through in their interviews … in spades. But their incredible music expresses who they are and what they’ve been through beyond talk and beyond words.”

That’s all well and good, but “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is not a concert documentary or a documentary about the making of an album. It’s supposed to be a biographical documentary that looks at all aspects of their lives, but the movie comes across as playing it a little too safe, as if the filmmakers wanted the approval of the Black Keys’ publicity team too. The documentary has very good concert scenes, but gives very little insight into the inspirations or recordings of specific Black Keys songs.

The people interviewed in the documentary do not include any critics of the Black Keys. Other interviewees include Dan Auerbach’s father Chuck Auerbach; Patrick Carney’s brother Michael Carney; Fat Possum Records executives Matthew Johnson and Bruce Watson; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Beck; and journalist Peter Relic, who gave the Black Keys’ their first review in Rolling Stone magazine.

The Black Keys’ notorious feud (which has since been settled) with Jack White (formerly of the rock duo the White Stripes) is not mentioned at all in the documentary. The closest thing that the documentary will mention to any music feuds that the Black Keys had was when Carney got some social media hate from Justin Bieber fans in 2013, when a reporter asked Carney to comment on Bieber not getting any Grammy nominations that year, and Carney made a flippant comment that Bieber should be happy with being rich. This short-lived and petty trolling from angry Bieber fans is quickly laughed off in the documentary for what is. But if you believe everything in this documentary, the Black Keys never had any uncomfortable rivalries with other musicians, when the reality is that they did.

People can enjoy the Black Keys’ music in any number of ways, including this documentary. As entertaining it might be to look at the impressive array of archival Black Keys footage that the documentary has compiled, the movie’s overall story of the Black Keys looks very much like a sympathetically slanted portrait of how the Black Keys want to see themselves and not a complete story of who they really are. Based on the final results, the documentary filmmakers seemed all too willing to go along and leave perhaps the hardest parts of the Black Keys’ story left untold.

Review: ‘The Sparks Brothers,’ starring Ron Mael and Russell Mael

July 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Russell Mael and Ron Mael in “The Sparks Brothers” (Photo by Anna Webber / Focus Features)

“The Sparks Brothers”

Directed by Edgar Wright

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Sparks Brothers” features a nearly all-white group of people (and one African American) discussing the career and influence of the American experimental rock/pop duo Sparks, including Sparks members Russell Mael and Ron Mael.

Culture Clash: The highs and lows of Sparks’ career included the Mael brothers’ sibling rivalry; relocating to England during a pivotal time in the duo’s career; parting ways with filmmaker Tim Burton on a movie musical that was supposed to be a big comeback for Sparks; and dealing with the fickle nature of the music business.

Culture Audience: Aside from die-hard fans of Sparks, “The Sparks Brothers” will appeal mostly to people who are nostalgic or curious about influential pop/rock musicians who never became superstars.

Russell Mael and Ron Mael in “The Sparks Brothers” (Photo by Jake Polonsky/Focus Features)

“The Sparks Brothers” documentary director Edgar Wright makes it abundantly clear that he’s a massive fan of the pop/rock duo Sparks, so this film is more of a tribute than a well-rounded biography. At 140 minutes long, “The Sparks Brothers” can be an endurance test for people who aren’t die-hard Sparks enthusiasts. And since the documentary only interviews people who are either fans of Sparks or have worked with Sparks, the non-stop praise for Sparks can be a bit repetitive. However, the documentary is a fascinating look at the longevity of Sparks and the brotherly dynamics of Sparks members Ron and Russell Mael.

“The Sparks Brothers,” whose exclusive interview footage was filmed in black and white, is a documentary that makes some attempt to not completely follow the typical film biography format of mixing archival footage with new footage that was filmed exclusively for the documentary. Sparks is known as an experimental and offbeat act that never hit superstar mainstream status. And so, there are moments in the film that are nods to the quirky image of Sparks.

For example, director Wright can sometimes be heard talking to the Mael brothers off-camera in a cheeky manner to make a joke or set up a sight gag. When he asks the Ron and Russell why they decided to do an authorized documentary at this time in their lives, older brother Ron says, “We didn’t want to do a standard documentary full of talking heads.” Russell adds, “It would become too dry.” And then two buckets of water are thrown on the brothers.

It’s a facetious moment, because this documentary is actually full of talking heads—so much so that numerous people’s comments about Sparks take up at least 40% of the movie. Some of the best moments of the documentary, which tells the Sparks story in chronological order, is near the beginning, when it reveals photos and details about the early years of Ron and Russell being musicians.

Ron (who was born in 1945 in Santa Monica, California) and Russell Mael (who was born in 1948 in Culver City, California) are the only children of Meyer and Miriam Mael. Meyer was a commercial painter, graphic designer and caricaturist, who tragically died when Ron was 11 and Russell was 8. Miriam was a librarian. Ron and Russell were raised primarily in Pacific Palisades (an affluent suburb of Los Angeles), and the brothers performed in talent shows when they were school children.

Ron says that these talent shows were the first experiences that he and Russell had in getting a taste of the “addicting” thrill of affecting an audience. People unfamiliar with the Mael brothers’ teen years might be surprised to find out from this documentary that Russell (who’s known for his thin physique) was the quarterback of his high school football team. Russell says that he got the same adrenaline rush from playing in football games that he later got when he performed on stage as an entertainer. The Mael brothers say that the 1955 dramatic film “Blackboard Jungle” was a huge influence on them as children.

Ron and Russell attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where they started to play in rock bands that never really went anywhere beyond the local music scene. Two of those bands were Moonbaker Abbey and the Urban Renewal Projects. The Mael brothers say they first started getting serious about music when they began working with Earle Mankey, a founding member of Halfnelson, the band whose name was later changed to Sparks. Sparks’ 1971 eponymous debut album was originally titled “Halfnelson.” Mankey is one of the people interviewed in the documentary.

At UCLA, Ron and Russell both studied film, which would influence the types of music videos that they made and their tendency to sometimes reinvent themselves with various images and costumes. But throughout their career, one image of the band remained true and constant: Russell as the extroverted lead singer (who was also a heartthrob in Sparks’ heyday) and Ron as the introverted keyboardist/songwriter/producer.

It’s repeated several times in the documentary that Ron had private struggles with being overshadowed by Russell, even though Ron was the one creating the band’s songs. It’s a common situation with musical duos and groups, because the lead singer is usually the one who gets most of the attention. But adding in sibling rivalry makes it a more emotionally complicated issue. Someone can stop working with a sibling, but that sibling will still be a family member.

Russell describes the early years of developing his stage persona as trying to emulate Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger and The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. “I was off by a few thousand miles,” he quips. The Mael brothers say other musical influences on Sparks were French New Wave bands. Given the brothers’ background in studying film, it’s not surprising that French New Wave in music and film had an effect on them, because there’s a very European style to the Mael brothers’ art.

Becoming a superstar act was never Sparks’ goal, but this documentary makes it clear that Ron and Russell Mael have wanted enough commercial success to be famous and to be wealthy enough to able to self-fund their projects in case no companies or investors were interested. There’s no question that Sparks has a very devoted fan base, but this documentary wants to bestow “legendary” status on Sparks. It’s a description that gives the movie a very fan-worship tone that exaggerates how far Sparks’ influence really went, compared to other non-mainstream arists who influenced a wider variety of people.

“The Sparks Brothers” documentary gives a comprehensive overview of the Sparks album discography, up until 2020, when the movie was completed. There’s a mention at the end of the film about the 2021 movie musical “Annette” (directed by Leos Carax), which features original music by Sparks, as well as the Mael brothers in supporting roles as actors. “Annette” (which stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard) is set for release by Amazon Studios in August 2021, thereby making it the second movie of 2021 (after “The Sparks Brothers”) to feature Ron and Russell Mael. “The Sparks Brothers” world premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and the world premiere of “Annette” is at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival,

“Annette” is the culmination of years of the Mael brothers’ dream to do a movie musical. “The Sparks Brothers” documentary includes their version of what happened when they parted ways with director Tim Burton on a movie musical called “Mai, the Psychic Girl,” based on the 1985-1986 manga series written by Kazuya Kudō and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. The Mael brothers worked on the movie during a time (the late 1980s to early 1990s) when the duo’s career was in a slump, and they say they needed a hit project to keep them financially afloat.

Although the Mael brothers don’t give too many details on what led to Burton’s departure from the project, they make it clear that Burton was the one who walked away, and the Mael brothers were heartbroken over it. (According to numerous reports, Burton chose to instead work with Disney for 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and 1994’s “Ed Wood.”) The Mael brothers invested several years and most of their personal fortune into the “Mai, the Psychic Girl” movie. And once Burton was no longer involved in making the movie, all the other investors backed out. The rights to make the movie eventually went to other people, but so far, attempts to make “Mai, the Psychic Girl” into a movie have not come to fruition.

Another crossroad in Sparks’ career that’s discussed in the documentary is when the Mael brothers decided to relocate to England in 1973, after growing frustrated by their lack of commercial success in the United States. They fired their American band mates to start over in a completely new country. It was in England that Sparks began to blossom artistically and found a bigger fan base than ever before. Sparks’ popularity eventually spread all over Europe (mainly in Western Europe), where Sparks had their biggest hits. The Mael Brothers moved back to the Los Angeles area in 1976.

Although Sparks has plenty of fans in other continents, Europe is where Sparks has been glorified the most. Sparks became so associated with England in the 1970s, that many fans who discovered them back then incorrectly assumed that the Mael brothers were natives of England. Sparks’ biggest string of hit songs were in the 1980s, including 1983’s “Cool Places,” from the album “In Outer Space”; 1986’s “Music You Can Dance To,” the title track of Sparks’ 1985 album; and 1989’s “Just Got Back From Heaven,” from the 1988 album “Interior Design.”

“The Sparks Brothers” documentary has plenty to say about the Mael brothers’ music, but very little to say about their personal lives, except for Russell mentioning that he was quite a playboy when he was young. The Go-Go’s co-founder/rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin, who’s interviewed in the documentary, says she dated Russell in the early 1980s, but their brief romance was more one-sided on her part. And in the early 1970s, Russell used to date a well-known groupie named Miss Christine, who was part of a short-lived all-female singing group called the GTO’s, whose first and only album was produced by Frank Zappa. Pamela Des Barres, a member of the GTO’s, is interviewed in “The Sparks Brothers” documentary.

There’s no mention if Ron or Russell ever married or if they have children—something they’ve refused to publicly talk about for years. However, it’s clear that even through their ups and downs, the brothers have remained close. The documentary shows that Ron and Russell have a routine of going to their favorite cafe in the Los Angeles area before going back to their home studio to work.

There’s some footage of the brothers creating music in their home studio. The documentary needed more of that type of behind-the-scenes footage and less talking heads giving Sparks testimonials. It’s fair to say that this documentary is overstuffed with people talking about Sparks and doesn’t show enough current footage of what the lives of the Mael brothers are like. The archival footage is good enough, but avid Sparks fans have probably seen a lot of it already.

A constant theme in “The Sparks Brothers” documentary is that Sparks has been very underrated in how much Sparks has influenced musicians in pop and rock music. What the movie ignores—although it’s pretty obvious when you see who’s interviewed in the documentary—is that when fans and other admirers talk about Sparks’ influence, they’re really talking about influence on mainly white people. Pop music nowadays is a lot more diverse than it was in the 20th century, so if Sparks really had as wide of an influence range as this movie claims, then there would be more diversity in the people being interviewed, not just in terms of race but also nationality and age.

With the exception of Icelandic singer Björk (who is not interviewed on camera), the people interviewed in the documentary are British and American people who were born before 1985. They include musicians such as Beck; Duran Duran co-founders John Taylor and Nick Rhodes; Franz Ferdinand lead singer Alex Kapranos; Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea; Todd Rundgren; Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum; Jack Antonoff; Bernard Butler; Erasure members Vince Clarke and Andy Bell; “Weird Al” Yankovic; former Visage drummer Rusty Egan; Electric Prunes singer James Lowe; former Haircut 100 singer Nick Heyward; Martyn Ware, co-founder of pop groups Human League and Heaven 17; DJ Lance Rock; New Order members Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert; and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.

Past and present Sparks associates interviewed include former Sparks drummer Tammy Glover; former Halfnelson tour manager/photographer Larry Dupont, former Halfnelson manager Mike Berns; former Halfnelson/Sparks drummer Harley Feinstein; former Sparks drummer Hilly Michaels; former Sparks manager John Hewlett; former Sparks road Richard Coble; former Sparks drummer Christi Haydon; former Sparks bassist Ian Hampton; former Sparks drummer David Kendrick; former Sparks guitarist Dean Menta; Sparks manager Sue Harris; and Sparks drummer Stevie Nistor.

And several people known for their work in movies, television or stand-up comedy weigh in with their thoughts. They include “The Sparks Brothers” director Wright; actor Mike Myers; actor Jason Schwartzman; actor/comedian Patton Oswalt; TV producers/writers/spouses Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino; actor/comedian Jake Fogelnest; actor/screenwriter Mark Gatiss; comedian April Richardson; actor/comedian Scott Aukerman; and comedian/TV host Jonathan Ross, who jokes that Ron and Russell Mael “don’t really look like a band. They look [institutionalized] people who’ve been let out for a day.”

Media people interviewed include broadcaster/columnist Katie Puck; journalist David Weigel; radio host Michael Silverblatt; and poet Josh Berman. Other admirers who have soundbites in the film are Sparks superfans Madeline Bocchiaro (president of the Sparks Fan Club), Julia Marcus, Vera Hegarty and Ben House. And behind-the-scenes music industry people interviewed include producer Tony Visconti and former Island Records A&R executive Muff Winwood.

If you’re exhausted or annoyed just by reading this list of names people interviewed for this documentary, that’s kind of like how it feels to watch this too-large number of people chiming in with their soundbites about Sparks and sometimes interrupting the flow of the movie. “The Sparks Brothers” director Wright clearly wanted to show as many people as possible who profess their adoration of Sparks, but the “less is more” approach would’ve served this movie better. And it certainly would’ve lessened the movie’s overly long run time.

“The Sparks Brothers” also has a bit of a pretentious tone in how it tries to make it look like people who aren’t fans of Sparks must have something wrong with them. Quite frankly, as talented as Ron and Russell Mael are, their music will never be a lot of people’s cup of tea. In fact, what this movie could’ve used is at least some perspective from people who are music experts but aren’t worshipful fans of Sparks and were never on the Sparks payroll. It would go a long way to explain why Sparks never caught on with a massive, worldwide audience.

Despite the overabundance of fawning over Sparks in this documentary, anyone who appreciates unique artists in music can find something to like about “The Sparks Brothers.” The movie also succeeds in presenting Ron and Russell Mael in their most candid on-camera interview spotlight. And the joy that Sparks has brought to so many people is obvious, so it’s a delight to watch in this movie.

Focus Features released “The Sparks Brothers” in select U.S. cinemas on June 18, 2021.

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