Tuesday, December 16, 2014

[Review] Top Five

It's the black Birdman. The black Before Sunrise. Chris Rock is the man in this--writing, directing, and starring in Top Five, a significantly timely passion project. A bunch of funny faces show up along the way, including: Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, and J.B. Smoove. It's also filled with surprises--a list of people are credited as "HIMSELF" or "HERSELF". The title refers to the often debated topic of the top five best rappers of all time. It's a running motif throughout the film, but it isn't really what it's about.

Comedian Andre Allen has hit a wall. His career is fading, he's battling alcoholism, he's about to get married to a reality show diva, and worst of all: he might have to join Dancing With The Stars. Allen is just unable to recapture the magic of his box office hit, "Hammy The Bear". But the thing is, he doesn't want to be funny anymore. Eventually, he agrees to do an in-depth interview with the New York Times, conducted by hip journalist, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). The two peruse the city as Allen shares stories, visits old stomping grounds, and gives biting observations about race & celebrity. Both of the characters are nicely developed as their acquaintanceship begins to break the interview walls.

The film is serio-comic and semi-meta. And it's tightly scripted, even though some improv was bound to sneak in. Given the nature and tone, it seems that Chris Rock has drawn some great influence from his former co-star and director, Julie Delpy (2 Days in New York). There's a grounded-ness to the narrative, but it'll still definitely make you laugh (and cringe) profusely. A couple of scenes involve some major raunch that I can't even type. The biggest highlights come from guest spots, but Chris Rock anchors the film with his charisma, great dialogue, and amusing facial expressions. He also displays some affecting moments of vulnerability.

There's soul-searching, along with themes about breaking one-dimensional molds, dealing with fame, keeping integrity, and embracing change. Everything is done without ever being self-indulgent. And in turn, Top Five isn't just one of the best comedies of the year, but it's also one of the best films of the year in general. It's a nuanced triumph on many parts, and it's the perfect platform for Chris Rock to wield his sometimes misunderstood brilliance.

What's your Top Five?


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