2023, Movies

Wham! (2023, Chris Smith)

This is a fascinating documentary about the British pop duo. Wham! does nothing for me and I can imagine younger me even having some ill will towards them – they are basically anti punk in ethos. (The one album of theirs I’ve heard is way too wannabe Motown for me.) But their story is far more interesting than I imagined. And that is despite how this feels like an “official” documentary – fully approved by Ridgeley and the estate of George Michael. (I’m guessing, but it does feel that way.)

The film is artfully told, interweaving new narration from Ridgeley with recordings of Michael with the odd interview clip and talking head. It gives the film a really personal feel, where it sounds as if it was narrated by the duo even though one of them has been dead for seven years. It’s well done.

Obviously the thing everything is interested in is how Michael was in the closet. And sure, that arc is compelling. But what I find more interesting is the relationship between the two men. Ridgeley has long been a pop culture joke, a classic “other guy” who nobody was sure what he actually did. (I think everyone “knows” Michael was the true talent in the band.) But what this film reveals is something very, very different. I assume some Wham! fans know this already, but I had no idea. And, sure, you can claim that this documentary would position that particular point of view because he’s involved, but Michael is on record saying many things about him, and there are some other interview clips that back it up.

The other really interesting thing is the breakup. They were 23 years old. And yet the way they handled the breakup is rather incredible, extremely adult and, seemingly joyful. It’s like one of those “conscious uncoupling” things, only it actually seems to have been real and serious. I honestly don’t know how many other (high profile) breakups like this have occurred in the history of popular music. It’s kind of remarkable.

Anyway, I enjoyed this much more than I imagined I would, especially given how I feel about their music. Really interesting even if it is likely a bit of a whitewash.


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