Written and Directed by Chris Rock
Stars Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, Sherri Shepherd, Jerry Seinfeld, J.B. Smoove
Rating 4.5 / 5
Chris Rock has always struck me as a cut above 99% of contemporary comedians in terms of talent, wit, observation and situational propriety. And proof is here in Top Five, his masterwork, a brilliant piece that moves like jazz with intelligence and delicacy.
It has a jazz-like framework; that is, “increasingly complex styles, generally marked by intricate, propulsive rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, improvisatory, virtuosic solos, melodic freedom, and a harmonic idiom ranging from simple diatonicism through chromaticism to atonality”*.
It won’t sit well with some viewers. There is an unconventional magic about it, and an intellectual power, so viewers must listen and pay close attention. The reward is huge with recognition that he is preternaturally gifted. I hope he makes more “serious” films. It mirrors the story in that it’s a comedian tiring of his work, wanting to do serious material.
Top Five opens with an extended riff on an unnamed Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the “disabled president’ whose condition sparks a conversation between a comedian (Rock) and a journalist (Dawson) about the diverse types that should become president in an ideal future. Other riffs, as seemingly obscure may frustrate some, and completely beguile others. Rock, clearly a polyglot, displays a wide range of knowledge and curiosity and slots in plenty.
It’s a movie that demands paying close attention because it is dense with ideas and conversation. It follows Andre (Rock) over a couple of days with an unnamed (Dawson) journalist assigned to cover him who strolls through New York with him. They visit his friends, including his ex (Shepherd), work in a recording studio, shop, run into her cheating boyfriend and observe life inside and out on a picaresque odyssey.
Fans crowd him wherever he goes. Andre’s a renowned and successful stand-up comedian, whose Hammy the Bear action film franchise has made him what he is today. But he feels constrained by the limitation of his work and has decided to pursue art with more to offer him, and he hopes, his fans. He’s just released a serious movie about an uprising in Haiti that is tanking; no one wants to see him that way.
What’s taken Andre to the tipping point is his upcoming wedding. He’s tying the knot with a reality TV star (Union) who insists on having the ceremony filmed for the show. Andre develops an allergy to commercialism, materialism and her. He and the dogged reporter on the other hand, discuss the weighty subjects that make him look deep inside himself.
This is a nearly flawless film, filled with big and small storms, the way life is, and filled with familiar beloved faces. The material is spot on and the ultimate effect is intellectual stimulation with lots of well-crafted lines and laughs and appealing, lifelike characters. Best of all it’s a showcase for Chris Rock’s outside talent and intelligence. It’s a guy known for one thing stretching into another thing and succeeding mightily. It’s an inspiration to us all.