Wham! movie review & film summary (2023)

But the film from documentary Chris Smith (“Fyre,” “Operation Varsity Blues”) is a total blast, regardless of your level of fandom. On the most superficial level, it’s just a joy to relive this time of pop culture excess and sing along with these insanely catchy tunes. It’s hard to believe the duo was only around from 1982-86, with the two coming to stunning global prominence at age 20 with such perky hits as “Young Guns” and “Club Tropicana.” The shorts were short, the hair was high, and the energy was knowingly, playfully hedonistic. Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were beautiful, and their music was effervescent; even the early songs with a social conscience were made for the dance floor.

Beneath their tanned, heartthrob exteriors, though, the two had a deep, brotherly connection from childhood and an unexpectedly evolving power dynamic. Ridgeley’s mum maintained meticulous scrapbooks documenting Wham!’s meteoric rise, which provide much of the substance here, along with never-before-seen footage and unheard audio from the personal archives of both men. Michael died on Christmas Day 2016 at age 53; Ridgeley has mostly lived a quiet life outside the spotlight for the last several years (although he did have a cameo in the 2019 romantic comedy “Last Christmas”). Hearing them speak fondly of their youth, their early days as struggling artists, and the thrills and perils of dizzying success provides a feeling of immediacy as if we’re eavesdropping on a conversation between two old pals who haven’t caught up with each other in a while. If there is any deficiency here, it’s that the movie just stops when Wham! ends; a title card briefly reminds us of Michael’s subsequent superstardom, but Smith offers nothing of the sort about Ridgeley’s post-Wham! career.

The friendship endured, and that’s much of what makes “Wham!” stand out from other music documentaries: the warmth, the fondness, and the absence of the kinds of creative struggles and egotism that so often turn these tales into cliches. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley met at school when they were 11 and 12 years old, respectively. Michael (who then went by his given name, Georgios Panayiotou) was the new kid in class who just happened to be assigned a seat next to Ridgeley. A shared love of music quickly became their bond; Ridgeley refers to Michael by the nickname he gave him, Yog, throughout the film, which adds an element of sweetness. What’s interesting is that Ridgeley was the dominant one in the beginning—he was more confident and stylish, and he had the vision for what Wham! ultimately would become. Michael, while obviously talented at a young age, was a little chubby and awkward. And despite the ass-shaking bravado he exuded in the group’s videos and concert performances, he had difficulty thinking of himself as a sex symbol.