by Jason Koenigsberg
Chris Rock is one of the funniest men in America which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find his newest film Top Five to be more heartfelt than hilarious. It is a very personal work and most likely autobiographical in some instances. One of the pictures greatest strength’s was how topical it was. Many moments contain excellent social commentary about our current state in regards to the media and pop culture.
The story to Top Five is straightforward. Rock plays an actor/comedian named Andre Allen, who is a recovering alcoholic and drug user, and from going sober he has lost some of his comedic ability. His goal is to try and stay clean and not make any more inane comedic blockbusters for a quick paycheck and instead wants the people to take him seriously as an actor. We follow Chris Rock around Manhattan for most of the film with Rosario Dawson who is interviewing him for Time Magazine. The dynamic between Rock and Ms. Dawson is exceptional and once again she delivers a great supporting performance that will probably go overlooked.
From giving this interview Rock’s Andre Allen interacts with family and friends that he has known all of his life and learns about himself as we do. This might make the film come off as overly preachy about Hollywood lifestyles but it is a good satire about show business and in some moments it becomes deeper than that. Especially poignant was the moment where Rock’s character has a breakdown in public that results in an arrest. He calls his fiancé played by Gabrielle Union who delivers an outstanding performance in this pivotal phone call scene where she really channels what someone like Kim Kardashian must feel like when she is honest with herself.
Rock who also wrote and directed the film proves that along with being one of the funniest stand-up comics in the world today he also has a lot to say and is a talented writer and director. I do not think he has much range as an actor but I would like to see him tackle more topical issues similar to the ones he addresses in Top Five. I know Rock is a big movie buff and a fan of Woody Allen films, this felt like a Woody Allen film with an African-American cast.
The cinematography looks great and I think that on-location shooting in Manhattan added a lot to the films authenticity. Chris Rock has always come across as a New Yorker at heart to me. The music is predominantly hip-hop and rap in the background and when you see that it was produced by Jay-Z and Kanye West you understand that it was probably a smart move by Chris Rock to do that so he had full access to their music.
It never feels long but I am sure that some people may walk out disappointed because Chris Rock does manipulate with audience expectations. Top Five does have some hilarious laugh out loud moments but in between it has some deep dramatic and somber scenes. For a picture populated with so many comedians and comedic actors it takes itself very seriously and that works in its favor. The dramatic moments are more powerful and memorable than some of the parts where I laughed.
This helps Top Five thematically because it is about a comedian who wants to be taken seriously as an artist and all the public want to see is Chris Rock put on a stupid costume, tell jokes and be funny. Many actors have had trouble with this where they have been pigeonholed into a character and typecast to only play one role. This is Chris Rock’s way of saying all actors are artists and deserve a chance to be taken seriously. He has constructed an intelligent picture about show business in the 21st century and Top Five is humorous and very heartfelt.