Chris Martin of Coldplay is a lot of things. He’s the leader of the most successful band of this century, an award-winning songwriter with seven Grammy awards on his mantle, and a stadium-sized frontman in a time when that’s a dying breed. He’s a member of one of the only rock groups that currently can claim to be too big for most music festivals, a special place mostly occupied by pop stars (Taylor Swift, Rihanna) and rappers (Drake). He’s a devoted father, a surprisingly decent actor, co-coiner of the phrase “conscious uncoupling,” and loyal buddy to Jay-Z and Beyonce.
But one thing Chris Martin is not is cool.
It’s this fact that makes Coldplay an easy target for detractors, who take one look at their Sgt. Peppers’ Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat aesthetic and take a hard pass. In the new documentary A Head Full Of Dreams, which traces the band’s history from schoolboys to dancing under a storm of neon confetti, there is a segment that even acknowledges the detractors, including being called “music for bedwetters.” Surely some of this comes from the band’s penchant for a soaring ballad, the earnest and inspiring lyrics, and their desire to draw from other musical trends like EDM and hip-hop. But a lot of that is pegged squarely on Martin, his omnipresent toothy grin, and his seemingly neverending well of positivity.
The film shows this to be an integral part of Martin’s character dating back to before Coldplay was a band. And it’s a remarkable bit of prosperity that director Mat Whitecross has been following Martin, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, and Guy Berryman around since that time, resulting in the kind of archival footage and insider access that is almost impossible to gain from a source outside a band. And because of this, it never feels like the kind of film that was heavily vetted by the group, making themselves look like both the consummate professionals that everyone imagines. No, Coldplay are presented as goofy, ambitious, unpretentious, and wholesome. They seem like guys you could be next door neighbors with and that you’d roll your eyes at when they waxed on about their goals over a pint or a joint. When Noel Gallagher shows up in the film to collaborate on the track, Martin acknowledges that the “grumpy” songwriter couldn’t have a more different worldview, and it’s up to the audience to parse that as a reason why Oasis belongs to Britain and Coldplay belongs to the world.
It’s a revealing look that begins at the movie’s opening moment. The film starts with Martin claiming he didn’t even want to watch the completed film, saying that he trusted Whitecross to treat the band generously. Anyone who has ever been on camera or had their voice recorded can relate to this, that dread that comes with watching or listening to yourself and not recognizing the person on the other end of the tape. It’s a wonderful contrast to how Martin is displayed elsewhere, who’s seen flailing about, twirling, leaping into the air while fireworks pop behind him. The person that looks so free on stage is not necessarily the same one who writes the songs or raises children or started a band decades ago. That person on stage needs to be fearless to survive, but the person off the stage has very much been learning as he goes, he’s just a big kid whose awkwardness and lust for life have followed him since childhood.