Top Five

2015-03-27 10:27

What it's about:

Andre Allen is a comedian trying to be taken seriously as an actor but as he tries to promote his latest "serious film", his life is thrown into disarray by an in-depth interview with a beautiful and fiercely intelligent journalist and his upcoming televised wedding to his reality-star fiancée.

What we thought:

Top Five walks a very fine line between self-indulgence and honest self-exploration but it is very much to Chris Rock's credit that his clearly immensely personal dramedy stays mostly on the right side of that line. And considering that much of this is presumably autobiographical and is written by, directed by and starring the man himself, with ample support from his many famous friends, that's no small feat at all.

Indeed, though it's a stretch to call Top Five a flawless piece of work, what with its occasional self-indulgence and its over-reliance on crude humour, as well as an episodic narrative that is sometimes let down by a few scenes that fall rather flat, it is an impressively bold, passionate and entertaining film that goes some way towards redeeming all the crap with which  Rock has been involved (in terms of films, anyway) over the past couple of decades.

Sure, there was the decidedly quite good Two Days in New York and a number of fun guest appearances on the likes of Broad City, Louie and Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but he's largely been known these past few years for doing OK voice work in the Madagascar films and for turning up in some truly miserable comedies – not a few of which happen to be Adam Sandler vehicles.    

Top Five is, more than anything, Chris Rock drawing a line in the sand and (re)declaring himself as a genuinely intelligent and funny writer, actor and, most pertinently, comedian who is capable of far, far more than brain-dead, unfunny, sophomoric crap like Grown Ups 2. Yes, parts of the film do play out like a generic romantic comedy and its over-reliance on dick and fart jokes does betray a certain lack of confidence in either his audience or himself, but it is primarily a timely reminder of just why Chris Rock was once considered to be such a big deal – and why he just may be again.

Top Five is, in essence, less about its plot and more about a look at the many, often conflicting, sides of Chris Rock. It's hard, for example, not to see Rock himself in the way that his character is caught between his desire to be a serious filmmaker/actor and a beloved (albeit not by critics) star of daft comedy movies. Interestingly though, one of the aspects of the the film that seems most autobiographical – struggles with drug and alcohol addiction – is apparently drawn more from family and friends than his own experiences.  

More even than his own life experiences, however, and more even than his own status as an actor/star, Chris Rock's greatest focus in Top Five is on his comedy. The film itself may be as much a drama as it is a comedy and the darker and more intimately personal feel of much of the film means that Rock isn't as funny here as he is in, say, Dogma or in his stand up routines, but by film's end, you are left with the distinct feeling that you've just watched an artist reach back to his roots in an effort to recalibrate his future.

Most of the film is framed by Rock's character being interviewed by Rosario Dawson's Chelsea Brown (there are plenty of great supporting turns throughout the film but, a hilarious J.B. Smoove aside, it's clearly Dawson who impresses most) and these interviews revolve around exactly the kind of issues on which Chris Rock built his reputation as a top-notch stand up comedian. Sure, Rock has never been afraid of jokes about various bodily functions, shall we say, but like most of the very best comedians, his best work was always based social and political commentary – his take on race relations arguably remains the high point of racial comedy (see his immortal "niggers vs black people" routine) – mixed in with his own personal views on love, sex and relationships. Top Five may not be the absolute best example of his comedy but it is a great reminder of what is.

Ultimately, the amount you enjoy Top Five will depend significantly on both your own views on Chris Rock and on plot-lite but highly personal filmmaking. It has gotten largely very favourable reviews by critics but, if the Internet Movie Database is any indication, it has been seriously divisive among "ordinary folks". Personally, I highly recommend it, despite of (and occasionally because of) its flaws, but please: do approach with caution.     

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