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Review: Netflix’s WHAM! – A Careful Whisper

todayJuly 7, 2023

Background

It was 1982, the best of friends and still teenagers – George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley as WHAM! set out to conquer the world. By 1986, they had done exactly that. Now for the very first time, told in their own words, the amazing story of how in four years they dominated the charts and our hearts. WHAM! is a feature length documentary that captures this magical time, from director Chris Smith (Tiger King, Sr.) and producers John Battsek (The Deepest Breath) and Simon Halfon (Oasis: Supersonic) With unprecedented access to both George and Andrew’s personal archive including remarkable and never-before-seen footage, alongside rare, candid and previously unheard interviews, WHAM! charts their incredible journey from school friends to superstars.

As a precursor, I watched last year’s George Michael: Freedom – Uncut, a two hour documentary marketed as George Michael’s final work. Although the career timelines are backwards this way, the two films work really well together. WHAM! actually ends right where FreedomUncut begins. WHAM! is vibrant, fast, and loud, while Freedom – Uncut is dark, mysterious, and slow; true to life. Most of George’s interviews in WHAM! come from these recordings sessions, adding yet another layer of familiarity.

© Tony McGee
© Tony McGee

A24’s Oasis: Supersonic has become the standard to which I hold music documentaries. It was bite-sized, held great interviews, and had some of the greatest editing I have, to this day, ever seen. Needless to say, I had very high hopes for WHAM!.

At only an hour and thirty minutes, the film is straight to the point, but never quite to its detriment. Nothing is overthought or overworked. There is, however, a lack of drama, but that’s Wham! isn’t it? A big, happy, smiling face.

My biggest gripe with the film is, almost hilariously, the lack of Andrew Ridgeley. What does he do? What did he contribute to the band? This is never spelled out to the viewer and WHAM! assumes one already knows. (He is a songwriter and plays guitar!) It reminds me of a scene in Key and Peele’s Keanu, in which Keegan-Michael Key’s character tells the story of Wham!, but those listening are confused as to how little he mentions Ridgeley. Poor guy. I liked Son of Albert!

© Netflix

My favorite scene, which other reviewers have noted as a highlight, is Michael leaving Ridgeley to work on “Careless Whisper” in Memphis, TN with famed music producer, Jerry Wexler. In voice-over, Ridgeley is overwhelmingly supportive, almost cheering on his friend. When asked how he felt about “Careless Whisper” being a Michael solo single, he says there was never a question. “He was my best friend. To be a part of that evolution,” Ridgeley says, “would be a great thing.” We all need a friend like Andrew Ridgeley.

The film reminds you that the duo’s 1984 album Make It Big (a clever reference to commercial success) holds three of the biggest 80’s songs of all time: “Everything She Wants”, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, and “Careless Whisper”, songs not only sang, but written and produced by solely George Michael (minus Careless Whisper, co-written by Ridgeley).

© Netflix

Wham! only recorded three solo albums in their time and this documentary mentions two. Music From The Edge of Heaven (aka The Final), is only referenced as the namesake for the group’s final concert and I wish there would’ve been more about the recording process. Elton John played keyboards on it! We have two or three scenes of Michael talking about what an influence Elton was to him growing up, all to not use this as the ultimate pay-off?

Similarly, the film doesn’t rely on talking heads. (No, not Talking Heads.) Only a few short clips are shown as archival footage, but WHAM! wants you to believe that nothing is new. (I believe Ridgeley’s interview probably is…) I don’t fault the team for this, as it is a fun approach, but is something to look out for to the biopic-ridden eye.

© Netflix
© Netflix

WHAM!‘s editing is other-wordly and much like Oasis: Supersonic. It’s less slick, but still so fun to watch and look at, with archival footage in the boatloads. Thankfully, the filmmakers used the recent 4K upgrades of Wham!’s music videos, so most of that footage looked magnificent. I didn’t love the sound mix, however. Most of the atmospheric, “cinema soundscape” tracks are sloppily overlayed on-top of Wham! tunes, where one usually defeats the other in volume. Some may think this adds to the experience, but personally I found it convoluted. I also don’t enjoy WHAM! playing the same few songs over and over again.

It hits the high notes and greatest hits, and while I’m sure a few big stories were missed, WHAM! is a near perfect beginner’s guide.

Final Review: ★★★★/5

Writer’s Highlights: Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?) in 4K, Remastering “Last Christmas”

 

Written by: Jace


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