Amazon UK film review: Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams
Ivan Radford | On 16, Nov 2018Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Mat Whitecross
Cast: Chris Martin, Will Champion, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman
Watch Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you…” It’s been 18 years since those words first wormed their way into our ears and even now, in 2018, Coldplay’s first hit song is probably still stuck in some part of your head somewhere. There’s something to be said for that kind of staying power, even as Coldplay has grown into a behemoth of the music world – and A Head Full of Dreams gives us an impressively intimate, surprisingly inspiring, and enjoyably catchy window onto that journey.
It’s a journey that’s not been entirely positive, and the documentary does well for finding a way to embrace both the band’s undeniable chart-topping, stadium-filling appeal, and their equally important role as the butt of every music joke of the last decade. The latter is partly, you suspect, because of frontman Chris Martin, who occupies a grey area somewhere between wet blanket and attention-loving artist – and sure enough, A Head Full of Dreams shows us the young Martin as university, back when he wouldn’t hesitate to get a guitar out at parties and announce that he could play. It’s only through teaming up with drummer Will Champion, guitarist Jonny Buckland, and bassist Guy Berryman, though, that Martin’s talent – and unabashed ambition – was channeled into something pleasantly inoffensive and commercially accessible. And it was only a few years after they first formed that they headlined Glastonbury – a stratospheric rise that only really sinks in when it’s condensed into a 90-minute documentary.
Mat Whitecross, who also made Oasis doc Supersonic, is a dab hand at this stuff, capable of stretching individual refrains into lengthy montages and compressing careers into vibrant seconds. As a friend of the band, he’s followed them with a camera on and off for 20 years, from before they even were a band, and it’s that access that gives A Head Full of Dreams the substance to go with its promotional surface.
Whitecross has a knack for picking out the fun of devising a riff in the studio, before showing us what it’s like to hear huge crowds reciting them in unison. He’s also unafraid to tiptoe into more delicate territory. We see Martin’s ego, as the early success of Coldplay caused them to jettison their drummer, Will, for not being able to keep up; Martin’s regret, as he realises that the band doesn’t work without Will; and Martin’s frustration at constantly needing to do something better, only recently getting to the point where he thinks the band has reached its potential. It’s this more fallible side of the band’s frontman that proves engaging, as opposed to the new-age side that has been presented to the public more frequently – the most striking moments of the film are when Martin is recovering from his breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow, and the band rally around him to provide support, not just emotionally, but musically. The reminder that Coldplay’s songs stem from their own creativity and needs, rather than just from a record label steering them to their next globe-trotting tour, is a touching jab to the heart, after the rush of blood to the head that is the Coldplay hype machine; the film manages to understand why the band is a punchline, laugh along with it (Martin gamely jokes that their brand is REM meets U2), and then come up with a persuasive argument that they maybe shouldn’t be. It plays out like a serious version of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, but in a good way.
So it’s something of a shame that the film doesn’t go deeper into the darker periods of time that aren’t avoided, but also aren’t not glossed over. Will’s brief departure could do with more from Will’s perspective, while an allusion to addiction during the band’s X&Y era is quickly pushed to the background. “Make the film you want,” Martin tells Whitecross at the start, as the director playfully ignores his request not to start with footage of the band running out on stage. At best, then, Whitecross’ refusal to dig too far beneath Coldplay’s surface is due to his own personal love for the group – but, surrounded by the positive, upbeat numbers from Coldplay’s latest album, you’ll find yourself sharing that affection, even if you weren’t a fan before. The movie channels the euphoric mood that defines the band in 2018, as they reach out to include friends, other musicians and family members in their democratic process of vetoing songs, deciding set-lists and just enjoying their good fortune to still be playing music with their mates after so long. This is a celebration, then, rather than a candid-camera portrayal of one of the world’s biggest bands. That sincere, charming, cheerful mood proves infectious; prepare to have Yellow stuck in your head all over again.
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.