It’s a truth universally acknowledged that even though no one ever admits to loving Abba, everyone does. Only a few notes of an opening song, and people start singing along, feet tap and all pretences crumble. The white, sequined jumpsuit-wearing quartet from Sweden built a pop empire with dozens of hit songs, a long-running Broadway musical and a Hollywood blockbuster in which even serious thespians such as Meryl Streep and Pierce Bronson sing Abba songs.
Now, a Discovery Travel & Living documentary, The Mamma Mia Story, which will air on 22 March at 9 pm, charts the Abba’s path—from a bunch of friends hanging out in Sweden to the making of a huge film, nearly 40 years later—and includes interviews with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the two men in Abba, as well as with actors from the movie and producers from the theatrical production of Mamma Mia.
Caption: Salt Water Cafe, Bandra.
With music so engaging to have spawned such success in other mediums, it’s rather odd that the documentary falls flat. The fabulous songs are played, fantastic clips of old Abba videos make their way in, and it’s fun to watch Streep jump up and down on a bed. However, the piece never quite gels and never manages to capture the vibrancy of the songs.
The interviews and story-telling also fails to really draw out a “Behind the Music”-type story. The band’s both couples are divorced; the women rarely make public appearances; and the members all adamantly avoid discussing their personal lives. But the documentary does not even name the women, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. We get no real insight into how these four people created such electric sounds together.
Neither is there an in-depth look at why audiences still respond to their music like they do. The only real reflection comes from Streep who, after seeing the show in New York City shortly after 9/11, reflects that the musical brought a much-needed joy and vibrancy to a city still shaken by the violence.
All said, the documentary still is about Abba and despite its shortcomings, is a guilty pleasure for all closet-Abba fans. It’ll have you singing and dreaming of bright lights and tight white pant suits. Come on, all together.... Mamma mia, here we go again, my, my, how could I let you go?