The documentary about the Norwegian synth-pop band plays like a slavish yet intermittently lucid Wikipedia entry.
A tragicomic air clings to bands who light up the sky like a firework and fade away. The Norwegian subjects of “a-ha: The Movie” are best known for their 1985 hit “Take on Me,” but, despite successful shows, seem mired in creative purgatory. Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s documentary trawls the band’s career with musings from its three members — Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Magne Furuholmen and the Ken Dollesque lead singer Morten Harket — and key associates.
Then what? The documentary reviews the band’s chronology like a slavish yet intermittently lucid Wikipedia entry. We don’t learn how a-ha continued to get the privilege of releasing albums (including denim and shiny-shirt phases at either end of the 1990s) or what kept thousands of fans coming back for more. But we do witness a hundred muted shades of glum and listless: Furuholmen still seems sad about abandoning guitar for keyboards, decades ago, while Harket talks about needing his space. Waaktaar-Savoy’s attitude can be summed up by a sticker behind him in one shot: “No Stupid People.”
Bouncing around synth-pop-happy London in the early 1980s, the driven trio of accomplished musicians landed a contract with Warner Brothers. “Take on Me,” with its infectious arpeggios and liberating high notes, made them stars, boosted by a delightful part-animated music video from Steven Barron (who also made videos for “Billie Jean” and “Money for Nothing”).