Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams review – schooldays to stadiums | Music documentary

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This is a watchable, if blandly celebratory and unchallenging portrait of a massive rock institution. It sees no great need to look for the flaws, the problems, the loose thread that could be pulled so the whole thing comes to pieces. Still less is it looking for any Spinal Tap satire. It could be seen as part of an emerging music-doc genre: home-movie intimacy, in which contemporary footage is interspersed with a treasure trove of milky analogue video showing the star’s heartbreaking moon-faced youth, shot by friends or family (schooldays, first gigs, practising in scuzzy student rooms, hungover morning journeys in buses and cabs).

This film looks back at Coldplay’s march to world dominance over the past 20 years and focuses on the tour for their latest album, A Head Full of Dreams. Director Mat Whitecross cheekily plays us phone-conversation audio of frontman Chris Martin begging him not to begin with the cliched backstage image of the band going out to face their audience – and then doing precisely that. It is the one moment of ironic self-satire in a film otherwise entirely reverential.

Whitecross mixes the gobsmacking images of Coldplay’s gigantic live shows with the backstage material: Coldplay in the studio or in their offices, amiably discussing what should and shouldn’t go on the album, laughing, frowning, glowering at the haters in the middlebrow-broadsheet press.

There are a few dark memories. Drummer Will Champion was briefly sacked before a contrite Martin got him back, and the band’s manager and de facto fifth member Phil Harvey briefly quit before returning. These things are not dwelled on, and certainly Martin’s conscious uncoupling with his ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow is also tactfully treated. (At one moment, Martin talks about the band’s perfect interrelationship: “It’s like when bacon, eggs, mushrooms and chips found themselves on the same plate.” A sarkier film would have gone for a Gwyneth gag.)

At one stage, Martin comments that their collaborator Brian Eno works with bands who have become “massive and terrible at the same time; he finds a way to keep the massive but lose the terrible …” Whitecross’s film keeps the massive, too, but insists that the massive is important, implying that ignoring or denigrating Coldplay’s enormous scale of success is obtuse. That could be right.

What comes across most vividly here is Martin’s face: incandescently smiley as a young man, lit up with the pure joy of life and still happy enough now, but tempered and clouded with those private woes that the film leaves out of the frame.

• This article was amended on 7 November 2018, to correct the star rating.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams review – schooldays to stadiums | Music documentary

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