Coldplay creates cinematic concert

Noah Thornburgh

“Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams” is a movie about a camera-wielding friend with legendary foresight. Director Mat Whitecross began filming the four members of Coldplay before they were famous, when they were roommates at University College London in 1996. The movie is a two-hour biography spectacular on Coldplay’s career so far.

The opening shot shows the band in 1996, stepping on stage at a small, poorly lit club. Cut to the band on its most recent world tour: An ocean of fans wearing glowing neon rings murmuring in anxious joy as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” is amplified into the arena. “You, the people,” Chaplin cries to the crowd as the band makes their way on stage, “have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

Whitecross portrays Coldplay as a group of mates who grasped the free and beautiful nature of their lives and turned it into endearing, pretty music, incidentally producing some of the best-selling records of the century so far. There is no irony here: the movie stresses the relatability of the group. There are plenty of shots of both brotherly banter and creative tension to remind the audience to connect with the famous characters on screen.

Lead singer Chris Martin dominates the screen for most of the film’s runtime, with his bandmates relegated as supporting cast. The choice seems driven by Martin’s charismatic protagonist-type personality. He avoids boasting in the spotlight and constantly stresses the importance of the band’s chemistry.

Overlaid on shots of the band’s slow realization of their mistake as they audition prospective drummers is Martin detailing the necessity of Champion’s style to Coldplay. A touching scene recalls when drummer Will Champion was booted from the band for an apparent inability to keep up with Coldplay’s evolving sound.

Similar scenes show up throughout the film in praise of Jonny Buckland’s guitar riffs and Guy Berryman’s basslines. The band is portrayed as a democracy, true to the Chaplin sample that begins their live shows. In one of Martin’s many extremely British lines, he compares the band to “when bacon and eggs and mushrooms and chips are put on the same plate,” and something far greater than the sum of its parts emerges.

Uplifting inspiration runs through the film. ‘Never give up’- and ‘believe in yourself’-type aphorisms are a staple, seemingly targeting a specific, able audience with a lucky set of circumstances similar to the four friends in 1996 London. Hidden behind these aphorisms is a theme of scale: The shots of Martin’s half-serious prophecies of success in the four years before Coldplay’s first hit single seem grounded in self-awareness. Towards the end of the movie, Martin says it seems like humanity is “one big band,” and he’s just the one who happens to be on stage. Suspend your belief in the disconnect of selling millions of records to adoring fans, and it lends some new life to overused clichés by unapologetically championing them, bolstered by the equally unapologetic optimism of the band’s most recent tour.

Like all ridiculously popular, larger-than-life bands, Coldplay’s music is polarizing. Hopefully, this movie is not. Hopefully, the optimism will infect; the ambition, passion, and hope of “A Head Full of Dreams” will work. Any criticisms that can be launched against the movie seem beside the point: the optimists will still say “I liked it. Fine band, great tunes, a wonderful adventure. All’s well, let’s go put on ‘Yellow’ and sing along.” And the pessimists? Well, the pessimists never liked Coldplay anyway.