It seems to be a common theme this Oscar season for Hollywood to complain about just how hard it is to be rich and famous. ‘Birdman’ certainly made an interesting (if underwhelming) attempt to turn the toils of the modern day actor into something cooky and surreal, and now we have the opposite side of that coin in ‘Top Five’. Written and directed by Chris Rock, the film attempts to more naturalistically capture the isolation and awkwardness of the famous comedian’s journey though middle age.
Top Five begins on the day that famed comedian Andre Allen’s (Chris Rock) new film about a Haitian revolt is opening. Eager to be taken seriously after years of alcoholism and making comedy films about a gun wielding bear, Andre is outraged that the media seems far more focussed on his upcoming wedding to major reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). Spending one last day in New York to promote the film, Andre finds himself being interviewed by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) about his past, present, and future.
Chris Rock is very clearly trying to emulate some of his own personal experiences through Andre, using him as a buffer to vent about the effects that race, drugs and alcohol, and media attention can have on the soul. This approach could have easily come off as pretentious in heavier hands, but Rock, determined to make both an appealing and thought provoking effort, rarely leads things astray. There’s a certain naturalism to the writing here, especially when Rock and Dawson are talking back and forth, that is both funny and insightful. These feel like real people talking, and the extravagant situations that they both flash back to collect the laughs because they’re told so authentically that it rings true.
Speaking of those people, Rock has assembled quite the team of character and comedic actors to pop up throughout this thing. Obviously it’s he, Dawson, and Union who have the most screen time and therefore come off the best, but everyone from Kevin Hart to Tracy Morgan to Cedric The Entertainer show up in this thing and they all are given at least something funny to say and do (even if Cedric’s mushmouth routine is definitely wearing thin).
There’s a wonderful balancing act between comedy and drama going on here. Just when things are starting to feel a little silly, Rock will throw in a poignant moment between himself and Dawson relying on their easy chemistry and well written characters, and when it starts to get a little self important, something exaggerated and hysterical will happen. Although this is a very grounded film for the most part, Rock is unafraid to go for the broad and silly stuff when he feels like it’ll work in his favor, and since it all feels very well informed, it works in the same satirical vein as other Hollywood satires such as Tropic Thunder (which it does not quite reach the heights of) or Funny People (which it easily surpasses).
Top Five might not be anything extremely resonant in the long run, but as a skewering of our current celebrity culture, it manages to be relatable, insightful, and funny, while also being unafraid to immerse itself in black culture, while never feeling forced or stereotypical, which for a majorly released film is very appreciated. It’s certainly Rock’s best work on the big screen to date, capturing some of the wild spark that makes his stand up some of the best in the world.