Director: Chris Smith
Back in the 1980s, boyband Wham! were one of the UK’s hottest musical exports. With chart success worldwide, their broad appeal and catchy songs turned them into one of the defining groups of the era and launched the hugely successful career of the legendary George Michael. Now, using archive recordings of the late icon and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, Netflix have released a feature-length documentary that charts the successes, scandals and personal lives of the quintessential 80s boyband.
Beginning with the boys’ first encounter at high school, the film begins with exploring the dynamic on which the band was founded. Ridgeley was the extroverted performer of the pair, while his new friend Georgios Panayiotou (as Michael was then named) was quieter and more intense. The song-writing talent lay with the latter, so as the boys’ infectious pop tunes are signed by a record label aged eighteen, it’s clear early-on who the break-out star would eventually be. The band’s stardom burned bright but burned fast, with many huge singles released in quick succession over just a four-year period. But all the while, Michael was wrestling with the secret of his sexuality.
However, this is not a George Michael autobiography. Focusing on the band and their success, this is a fun popumentary that expertly showcases their musical talent and appeal to a widespread market. While there is much discussion of Michael’s yearning to be considered a serious artist, Wham! were decidedly teen idols, with their music aimed at the bubblegum mainstream. Perfectly encapsulating the era with its cassette tapes, shoulder pads and bouffants, the film manages to slot Wham! into the wider musical landscape too, drawing on both their influences and influencees.
Director Chris Smith – whose documentary cannon has included some of the biggest of recent years (Tiger King, Fyre, The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann) – has allowed material from the time to speak for itself. The film never deviates away from 80s footage, with commentary coming from archive audio recordings from Michael and newly recorded analysis from Ridgeley. The result is a seamless retrospective that manages to capture the vim of what made the band such a success without jading it with the pitfalls of hindsight.
The film’s biggest success is in fully realising the strength of friendship between the two boys. Essentially this is a feel-good buddy movie, drenched in the Piña Colada-optimism of the 1980s, fizzing with all the youthful exuberance of an unabashedly teenage zeitgeist.
UK Release: Out now on Netflix