Skip to main content
FilmFilm Reviews

‘Wham!’ review: A flat retelling of the iconic duo’s greatest hits

By July 5, 2023No Comments4 min read
Wham! Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael in Wham!

In Wham!, George Michael and Andy Ridgeley get a rushed, routine Netflix documentary that fails to hit any high notes.

Fame is fleeting no matter how much you make it big. One movie can be the toast of Hollywood in a month, then disappear from moviegoers’ memories the next. A book can be on The New York Times Best Seller list one year before spending an eternity on a dusty discount shelf. Even a song that brings tens of thousands of people together one moment doesn’t promise a lasting career, let alone one interesting enough to fill time on a streaming service.

To be fair, the duo behind Wham! are not one-hit wonders. George Michael and Andy Ridgeley had a small amount of hits between 1981 and 1986, which was enough for them to fill arenas in England, America, and even China in the mid-80s. With that many fans around the world in their heyday (and beyond, given Michael’s post-Wham! solo stardom), someone at Netflix must’ve thought there was something unique about the lyrics or sound or style of the group worthy of deeper-analysis and the documentary treatment.

Unfortunately, the farther the duo’s eponymous Netflix doc goes, the more one-note their story sounds. George and Andy were best friends in school, had shared passions for music, and wanted to hit the big time. They struggled a bit a first, though not enough to earn them any grit or respect from an industry that saw them as dumb pretty boys.

A still of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley leaning on a car in Wham!

The best of friends.

Michael and Ridgeley broke through on Top of the Pops (though only as a last-minute replacement for another act) and fit right in with the rest of the choreographed dancing and slick hair of other 80s UK pop groups. There’s a speckle of label drama about money, a funny story about the origins of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” everyone asking Andy if he’s jealous of George getting more attention, a bit about “Last Christmas,” Live Aid, and then the story’s over. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

The problem with the movie Wham! is not in any of the filmmaking. Director Chris Smith (American Movie) has given stylish and informative looks at colorful culture touchstones before, whether it be an inside look at Jim Carrey renting out his body to the soul of Andy Kaufman in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond or the infamous influencer grift of Fyre. The problem is that the band Wham! doesn’t have an interesting story to tell.

Wham! weren’t groundbreaking musicians exploring new sonic landscapes at the time or controversial counterculture icons that challenged the norms of any establishment. They fit right in with the likes of Duran Duran and The Human League as fashionable performers making bright, disco-inspired synth pop meant to wash away the remains of punk rock’s first boom period in the late 70s. Smith has plenty of flashy archival footage and Wham! memorabilia to edit into montages with the group’s chipper sound, but nothing to make the case that Wham! were underrated or worthy of deep thinking. In fact, the doc even admits that the reason Wham! were one of the few western pop acts allowed to perform in mainland China was because they were safe and inoffensive.

A still of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley singing in Wham!

Not much behind the music.

The only major revelation in Wham! is Michael realizing his sexuality in the early days of the group and then deciding to hide it from his family and fans. It is interesting to learn that his choice to stay closeted was his own and not a cowardly dictation by Andy or a label executive, with his bandmate supporting him and still loving him like a brother. And yet that aspect is in but one section of the doc and never really comes into play for the band again.

When Michael publicly came out in 1998, he admitted to staying closeted because he had been accused of being gay throughout the first half of his career. That first half was likely referring to his days as a solo artist, because Wham! the documentary doesn’t show much evidence of that. Nor does it show what (if anything) Andy did after the group’s farewell concert and Michael’s fame shot into the stratosphere.

If anything, Wham! is like a 92-minute prologue to a documentary about Michael’s life as a solo artist. Without that future context, the story of Wham! isn’t interesting or eye-opening enough to warrant the existence of anything longer than an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, let alone a feature-length documentary. There are aspects of the story more worthy of analysis, from music labels severely underpaying newer artists without them knowing why or how important the 80s synth pop boom was important to queer culture. Those are vital stories that Wham! can make bigger, not use to make them seem bigger than they are or were.

Wham! is now available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Netflix. Read more articles by Jon Winkler here.

  • WHAM! - 4/10
Jon Winkler

No Comments

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: