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Top Five

December 12, 2014

It may or may not surprise people to learn that I have always been a fan of Chris Rock. His stand up has this wonderful range where he can go from mulling over an idea to shouting about it like he is the last sane man on earth in the span of a few sentences. There’s a simmering anger beneath the surface of his bits, and it fuels the great social commentary that is so key to what he does. When I first caught previews of Top Five, I was enthralled by the idea of him doing something so self-reflexive and the idea of a comedian struggling with no longer feeling funny is one with surprising depth. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the movie surpassed my expectations.

Top Five takes place over the course of a single day, and the overarching story of Andre Allen (Rock) is told through his interview with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) of the New York Times. From the moment the film starts, it’s easy to be pulled into the chemistry between the two leads as they discuss progress and race in modern America, the conversation is serious but peppered with jokes and the feel of it is loose and comfortable. Then the film takes a step back, introducing us to Allen at the start of the press junket for his new movie Uprize, a serious film about the leader of a Haitian slave rebellion, as he is slammed with hack question after hack question and pestered with people wondering when he will return to his popular comedy film franchise Hammy the Bear.

Chelsea Brown immediately hits him with the same bullshit the moment they meet, and he challenges her to hit him with honest questions. The meat of the first act comes from the two of them actually earning each others trust, and opening up about parts of their lives that it’s clear neither of them are comfortable talking about. The stories they share end up taking on a life of their own, turning into these surreal moments of hilarious absurdity that the movie continues to build throughout its run time. Every time you think they’ve taken a joke or an idea as far as they can, it comes back with even greater force making you laugh all the harder.

Yet, it doesn’t feel strange when the movie backs away from these absurd sections and veers directly into big emotional moments. The longer the movie goes on, the more we get a better sense of why Andre Allen is so frustrated with himself, and why Chelsea Brown is such a complicated person. Most of the film isn’t laugh-out-loud comedy but dark gallows humor and meaty emotional scenes that all play so naturally into each other that it’s easy to become lost in it.

Top Five really does remind me of a Chris Rock set.

As I said above, his comedy has always had this over-the-top streak that rests on a foundation of serious thought and social critique. When he turns that lens inward, on questions of what it’s like to lose such a massive part of your identity like creative passion, it ends up creating a rich and rewarding experience.

Aside from a little janky camerawork in a few scenes, this is a fantastic film with very few flaws. The supporting cast is an endless parade of hilarious comedians who you’ll no doubt recognize, each breathing life into characters that are fully realized even when they only have a few lines. At times, it feels like there are entire scenes going on at the edges of the camera’s focus and that might be the best part of this film.

Top Five shows us a crucial moment in Andre Allen’s life, but there’s still an entire life if not an entire world going on around him that informs that crucial moment, that helps us understand why he does the things that he does. I can’t recommend this film to you enough, if you’re looking for a laugh or something to think about, check it out this weekend.

From → Movies

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