DIR/WRI: Chris Rock • PRO: Eli Bush, Barry Diller, Scott Rudin • DOP: Manuel Alberto Claro • ED: Anne McCabe • MUS: Ludwig Göransson, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson • DES: Richard Hoover • CAST: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union
Chris Rock’s latest film Top Five incorporates elements of Woody Allen, Richard Linklater and Noah Baumbach. However, it is not so much the comedian’s taste in auteurs that makes this his most valiant effort as a director as it is the fact that it’s his most personal, which helps it transcend to something more special. Shot on location in New York, we are dropped into the day of a life of a comic star named Andre Allen (Rock), who rushes around the city in an attempt to plug his new motion picture. He is shadowed by journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who tries to pick his brain for the day. A former stand up turned hack actor, Andre has fallen victim to the celebrity culture that has poisoned the docile masses. It was wise of Rock not to delve too deep into social commentary regarding media sensationalism because it leaves so much room for his strengths; observational comedy and character.
Top Five flaunts an eclectic group of characters; an inquisitive journalist, a bodyguard with a fetish for XL ladies, a seedy Texan concert promoter, a drunken sad-eyed father and a boyfriend who’s a finger enthusiast. It’s as if a compilation of Richard Pryor characters migrated from the stage to the screen and the way the dialogue is spoken you can tell that this flick was penned by a stand up. It’s conversational comedy that flows so naturally with a range of topics ranging from an outlandish Planet of the Apes theory to Charlie Chaplin to the top five rappers (the premise for the film’s title).
Although the movie is reminiscent of Funny People, which also portrayed another stand up turned Hollywood hack (Sandler’s version hit a little more close to home), it is nowhere as ambitious or complex as Judd Apatow’s opus. However, this doesn’t exactly hurt the movie because Rock isn’t as seasoned a filmmaker as Apatow and he wisely keeps it simple, which is the charm of this film. Top Five certainly borrows many themes from Funny People, but because Rock brings his own flavour and pace to it, the movie works. The idea to set the film around one day creates a sense of authenticity for the audience, making us feel that we are hanging with these characters as they roam through the hustle and bustle of NYC.
Top Five utilises two great sequences to great effect. The first is an anecdote from Andre describing to Chelsea when his alcoholism reached rock bottom. He illustrates how a night in Houston transformed from an erotic dream come true into a seedy soaked nightmare (literally) involving two four legged hookers and a sleazy concert promoter (played wonderfully by Cedric the Entertainer). The events are raw in their raunchiness, but not done in bad taste giving Andre’s conclusion.
The second sequence is a masterful stretch when Andre visits his friends and family in the projects where he spent his childhood. It’s a rich sequence of comedy, character and naturalistic dialogue that feels like it is in no hurry to end. Rock brings the audience on a detour, taking a break from the plot and Andre’s busy schedule, allowing us time to enjoy the small talk. We get a glimpse into Andre’s roots that evoke memories of a simpler time of his life before the media frenzy and artistic pressures.
Andre and Chelsea stray from his entourage and ramble through the streets by themselves welcoming in the city’s vibrant atmosphere. Their relationship grows throughout the day and a connection begins to surface. They are both recovering alcoholics, which is depicted in a hazy scene when the two saunter slowly through a liquor store brushing their fingertips across the bottles that contain their inner demons. The way it was shot reminded me of Godard’s portrayal of outcasts floating through the cracks of normal society. A nicely fitted third act twist stagnates their oncoming attraction, allowing for some space and an introduction of great cameos from three comedians and a growling rapper before climaxing with a Cinderella story ending.
Here’s a movie that indulges all my obsessions; cinema, hip-hop, stand-up, and is done in such a casual and authentic manner that it doesn’t feel forced. It’s well written, boasts an array of fantastic dynamic characters and above all it’s very funny. After a second viewing it grew on me even more as I focused more on subtle poignant moments like when Andre meets his father or when his fiance desperately explains to him that her lack of any talent propels her to do reality television. It would appear that third time’s a charm for Chris Rock, finally finding his cinematic venom. Guess there’s only one more thing for me to say:
- DJ Quik
- Ghostface Killah
- Ice Cube
- Kool G Rap
16 (See IFCO for details)
Top Five is released 8th May 2015