dir: Chris Rock, 2014
It was a dark and stormy night…
Okay, but deadass, it was hella stormy last night as I made my sojourn to go watch Chris Rock’s latest, Top Five. Thank the lord I reconsidered taking my bike. Ya’ll may not have heard from the kid again, ‘cuz those torrents were serious. Luckily, I was delivert to the movies and back home by a couple brave Lyft drivers.
Now, before I dive into this I do wanna say something. The film is great, really. And, I usually don’t do spoiler alerts because I’m assuming, dear reader, that you’ve seen the film or you’re not super sensitive and care not for such silly things. In either case, after some thought, I’m deciding to make this as spoiler-free as possible. This is mostly because the surprises and content of the film work so well that to not let you experience them on your own accord would be a heinous crime.
Top Five is a semi (fully?) autobiographical stint in which comedian-turned-movie-star Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is interviewed throughout the course of the day by New York Times journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson, hey boo). Outside of everything that happens in the film (and a lot does happen), that’s the core. In a way, the film is a masterwork because you almost forget that this entire affair spans a little more than 24 hours.
I’m calling this out because the film is incredibly intimate. For all the bizarre moments and hilarity, we always return to Rock and Dawson just talking, walking around New York. This in of itself was a treat for me as, in my opinion, Rock seemed to be lovingly showing off his city without being ostentatious. Speaking of hilarity, Top Five is almost like seeing the band get back together. Rock rounds up some of the best folks from comedy past and present (and possibly future). The only sad thing about this gathering of comics is the recent losses of some of the greats like Bernie Mac, Patrice O’Neal and others are amplified in turn. In my opinion, that subtext joins the larger meta structure of Top Five.
In a nutshell, Top Five is a story within a story about a story. Chris Rock is essentially playing himself, in a film about his life, but not “his life.” We’ve seen this before, in 2007’s I Think I Love My Wife. In a way, Top Five is the A-side to I Think’s B-side. It manifests a post-Good Hair Chris Rock who has seen his share of questionable choices (I’m looking at you Death at A Funeral, Grown Ups 2) and career gems (The sadly cancelled Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell or the fun 2 Days in New York). While this older Rock is wiser and sharper with his wit, he still does indulge himself thematically. Chief in my mind is his (obsession?) with playing out extra-marital fantasies on-screen. Yes, you’ll see Rock dive into somebody’s pum-pum at least once during Top Five.
I won’t say whose it is doe. (*insert kermit meme here*)
I just really wonder what his relationship with his wife is life. I hope they’re solid. But I digress.
Another thing to note is that much of the art strangely imitates life in ways that are both painful and funny. For instance, in a scuffle with police Andre is clearly put in a headlock. The recent killing of Eric Garner put this scene in a strange context where, the tragedy nearly overshadows the funny, forever shading it in a way that gave me pause. On the other hand, things can be quite surreal: there’s a montage where Andre is doing an interview run for his Haitian revolution film and he visits the Opie and Anthony Show. The whole scene gets an added boost of hilarity considering Cumia’s recent outing of himself as a racist shit.
Lastly, the main reason I consider Top Five the better half of I Think I Love My Wife is because of not only the better wit, but the handling of female characters. Namely, both films still hold Rock’s penchant for creating just 3D enough female characters to complement his protagonist’s journey to epiphany. Where Top Five betters I Think I Love My Wife however is Dawson’s great handling of Chelsea. Romantic interest aside, she bests and battles Rock on every front, not allowing him to be the only dynamic person on screen. The two have a great comedic chemistry that, paired with the multitude of intimate medium shots, make for a sharp and warm heart to an incredibly funny film. Ultimately, she does her character justice while also breathing life into a contrite late-act romance that could have easily fallen into the tired and overwrought category, real fast.
Without a doubt, Top Five is Rock’s anthology of himself. But it’s also a love letter to New York. And, a fair nod to the great comedians who have come before him. Cumulatively, it’s a triumphant jab at critics and fans alike that says: “I may have made some shitty movies. I may have taken time off to do other things. But, I’m still the Chris Rock you’ve grown to love. And I’m still funny as hell.”
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope