I couldn’t help but notice that there seems to have been a major increase in films like Top Five lately. “Movies about movies,” is what I like to call them. They are films that chronicle the life and times of an actor, director, screenwriter, or anyone else that has something to do with the entertainment industry whether it’s a real person or not, and it usually takes place during this person’s transitional period, where they’re either struggling with something or just getting the idea for something big. Top Five discusses the latter, and while it does contain all of the aspects I just read off to you, it uses them to its advantage in order to be one of the best “movies about movies” I’ve seen.
Chris Rock stars, writes, and directs this film that may be semi-autobiographical for all I know. It’s about a comedian (Andre Allen) who is struggling to transition over to drama because he just doesn’t feel funny anymore. I was actually pretty surprised while I was watching this due to the fact that it was not what I was expecting it to be. It’s a movie that takes place all in one day and, practically, during one interview between Allen and a journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). It had a similar feel to Before Sunrise and I really enjoy this way of telling a story. It makes it all feel so much more intimate. The day is the release of Allen’s new movie, Uprising (which is about the Haitian slave revolt), which no one can seem to take seriously, but how could you? The poster is ridiculous in and of itself with Rock holding a machete in the air, his mouth wide in a comedic yell. I chuckled every time I saw that poster.
I had no idea that Chris Rock could direct, but I guess he’s directed two other films before this one. I didn’t know he could write either and he shows immense talent in both of those categories with Top Five. Top Five is one of the most honest and sincere films I’ve seen this year, descending into depths that I don’t think Rock has journeyed yet. As I watched, I could feel the emotion in the writing, and the intensity in Rock’s performance as well, which makes me wonder whether this is more personal than one may think at first. In the film, Andre Allen is tormented by a beloved franchise that he wants desperately to put behind him (not unlike Birdman), but with this franchise, which is called Hammy the Bear and literally is buddy cop trilogy with Allen in a bear costume fighting crime with his partner, Allen has created a stereotype for himself. He’s a man who can’t be taken seriously, which is something that I think many comedic talents have struggled with on their way to drama.
This whole concept reminds of one actor’s struggle with this, and that actor is Adam Sandler, who actually makes an appearance in Top Five. Don’t know if that was on purpose or not, but I’d like to think it was. Sandler is known for his goofy antics and when he was cast in the odd romantic-comedy Punch-Drunk Love, it was immediately thought of as just another goofy Sandler movie when it’s anything but. That is evident within its very low revenue it gained during its theatrical run. Punch-Drunk Love is, for the most part, a very poignant and emotional film with Sandler giving his finest performance and one that should have gone on to win an Oscar. Sandler then left dramatic filmmaking and decided to continue his route with more goofy comedies, except for the occasional dramatic effort, where he really does shine. Sandler even gives a fairly grand performance in Top Five, for the brief cameo he has. It makes wonder whether Top Five is Rock’s attempt at going dramatic. I think this definitely the right route, because Top Five is still partially a comedy. That’ll make it easier for audiences to believe him in a serious role, unlike Allen’s huge jump from a movie about a talking bear who’s a police officer to a movie about a slave revolution. Not the best move.
Top Five is a funny movie, don’t get me wrong. There were many instances where I was falling out of my seat with laughter, thanks to Rock’s wonderful writing that harkens back to his early days of standup. One scene that includes Rock and Cedric the Entertainer in a hotel room with some prostitutes was a major highlight. If you’ve seen the movie already, there’s no way you could forget that scene. What I do love most about Top Five is that it never settles for lowbrow, but actually relies on the story and characters. Some people say comedy is easy, drama is hard, but this is one example where I think otherwise. It’s very difficult to find a perfect center between funny and dramatic, but Top Five expertly maneuvers between the two as if Rock had been writing dramedies his entire career.
The comedy aspect is much more present in the earlier scenes than in the later ones, but this is okay because the gut-busting comedy from the first half just wouldn’t work in the second. The second half of the movie is where it begins to show the core of Andre Allen’s character. We see his pain and how full of regret he is, and, at one point, it’s quite heartbreaking. The final shot of the film is probably my favorite part. I won’t describe it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it’s an ending that puts a smile on your face. While I was watching, I did see a possible future where the ending would be clichéd and underwhelming, but Rock dodges that and makes it all his own. It’s quite thought-provoking, as is this whole movie. In a year where so many actors and directors have gotten a comeback or a rejuvenated career, Chris Rock holds his own and he is right up there on that list, probably near the top.