Published Nov 13, 2018A Head Full of Dreams begins with a recording of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin renouncing all creative control over this documentary, giving director Mat Whitecross carte blanche to make whatever film he wants to make. But don't get too excited about this being a Some Kind of Monster-style expose about delusional celebs and petty inter-band fighting. A Head Full of Dreams essentially amounts to a two-hour commercial for Coldplay, with its faint traces of grit buried beneath mountains of rainbow-coloured confetti.
Whitecross is a longtime friend of the band, and he's been filming them since even before they formed Coldplay. This means that A Head Full of Dreams contains a wealth of early archival footage, which is particularly impressive, given that they formed a decade or so before camera phones. From Chris Martin delivering cringe-worthy dorm serenades, to snippets of Coldplay's first-ever gig, the candid clips of the band's brace-faced formative days are silly and charming.
This raw early footage is juxtaposed against impeccably shot concert footage from the group's most recent tour. This contrast between old and new is a neat trick that Whitecross relies on far too heavily — whenever we're getting into the nitty-gritty of the backstory, the film suddenly leaps forward to present-day shots of Coldplay playing for 80,000 adoring fans in Buenos Aries.
This takes the bite out of some of the most interesting moments: there's a fascinating but all-to-brief passage about Chris Martin's obsessive artistic drive when making 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head, and the toll that took on his personal life. Then, in the middle of an intriguing anecdote about writing "The Scientist," we're back to 2017 with tens of thousands of people screaming "I'M GOING BACK TO THE START!!!" The same thing happens in the section about 2005's X&Y, which barely scrapes the surface of the album's tumultuous creation before giving us a stadium-sized coda of "Fix You."
Moments of friction are reduced to passing anecdotes: references to bassist Guy Berryman's drinking problems are breezed over; Chris Martin's divorce with Gwynyth Paltrow is turned into a redemption narrative about the 2014 album Ghost Stories; and a lone backstage scene where the singer acts like an entitled prick is presented alongside an ever-so-humble mea culpa. Allusions to inter-band conflict are outweighed by constant reminders that the lads are still best friends after all these years.
The film is stuffed with platitudes about following your dreams, as Whitecross emphasizes the way Coldplay achieved world-conquering success supposedly thanks to Chris Martin's unshakeable sense of self-belief. Really, there's nothing more insulting than being told to "follow your dreams" by a fabulously wealthy rock star who conjures explosions of fireworks simply by raising his arm. It's hard not to read the subtext as: if you're not as successful as Coldplay, you're just not following your dreams hard enough. Without properly exploring the hardships and struggles of the band's journey to the top, the vague inspirational messaging is hollow.
The candid footage reveals that the Coldplay lads are genuinely interesting people. Chris Martin is a particularly complex and likeable character, with the "yes-and" wit of an improv comic and a manic creative streak that hints at an underlying anxiety. It's just a shame that the nuances of the band's story have been glossed over in favour of bludgeoning viewers with a vapid inspirational message.