Top Five was released last year but I have only just had the opportunity to watch it. For those who don’t remember or have not heard of the film, it is a Chris Rock movie about a comedian (Andre Allen) who has battled alcoholism, critical backlash to his move away from comedies and into more serious films, and a fiancee with her own reality show. We follow him as he spends a day with a reporter who really just wants to know, “Why did [he] quit doing stand-up and comedy?” For fans of Rock and his predecessor Eddie Murphy, you can see parallels of between the character’s life and those of real-life comedians (in particular Murphy).
The title really has nothing to do with the story but it is a running theme throughout the movie. Most scenes are include some moment where people’s “Top Fives” are discussed. In this film, the top five in debate is hip-hop artists. It’s a fun theme that adds an interesting dimension to the film that is just on the fringes of relevant. I find it clever because while it’s a film about a black comedian, if you enjoy black comedies then the likelihood is that you also enjoy your fair share of hip-hop. It creates an interest in not only discussing the film but the music as well.
Watching this movie last month was great timing because it was right as Straight Outta Compton, the musical biopic about N.W.A., was beginning to get more hype. Hearing the characters discuss their personal top fives made me want to go back and listen to all the great rap music I enjoyed from the late 80s and early 90s. With all due respect to MCs of today, there was a rawness to those old school artists that you just don’t find in today’s hip hop. My only complaint is that this movie takes place in New York and therefore, the west coast scene is largely underrepresented.
The core story of the film is told through a playful yet serious banter between Andre Allen and Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). It’s a fun and engaging way to get to know the lives of the characters. You do feel a sense of sympathy for Allen (as much as you can feel for a celebrity) as he struggles to adjust to life without alcohol and beyond comedy. Going back to the Eddie Murphy reference, there is a significant Shrek and Donkey parallel that proves to be his tipping point to leave the comedy/mainstream game despite the inherent dividends it pays. Unfortunately by this point, no one wants him for anything serious and his movies have now become a punchline for box office garbage. No one will touch him. What is keeping him in the public eye is his impending marriage to reality TV star, Erica Long (played by Gabrielle Union), who is basically a Kardashian. Rock struggles with the fact that everyone cares more about the upcoming nuptials than his movie than his upcoming movie release. As he jumps through more and more hoops for the wedding, he is brought face-to-face with the reality that although its the wedding that is keeping him in the spotlight, it’s really her that needs it more than him because her fame is based off of his former relevance as an actor. She only gets this one shot to be famous.
All that does not even touch on the character of Chelsea Brown, who is interesting in her own right. A young mother who writes under multiple pen names, she struggles to understand Rock because while she is attracted to the energy that comes from his stand-up, it’s hard for her to comprehend how hat man can create the current hodge-podge of cinematic garbage that he is producing. As you learn more about her through the film, you see that she struggles between the various ghostwriter identities that take on myriad roles: critic, advice columnist, love guru, interviewer, and more. The two characters help bring out the good, bad, and ugly from each other throughout the film and by the end of the movie, there is not so much a resolution versus an “I know these characters” moment that connects you to the film.
Sprinkled throughout the course of the film are wonderful cameos by truly talented comedians. In particular, Chris Rock’s bachelor party scene with Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jerry Seinfeld is a great homage to the wonderful career that Rock has had. And they play their roles exceptionally well with some great moments discussing marriage, cheating, and their own top fives. Some other notable cameos can be seen from J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, and Tracy Morgan. It is a veritable who’s who of contemporary black comedy.
I enjoyed the movie quite a bit and it has a smooth and even pace, equivalent to the conversation between our two main characters. You’ll hear critics say that there are some offensive homophobic moments but if they are getting upset about that (which I would argue is one of the funniest scenes in the movie) then they are forgetting the point of comedy. Nothing should be safe from comedy. Louis C.K., Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy (some of my favorites) – they all excel at taking the taboo and turning them into jokes. Spoiler Alert! – It’s okay to shove a hot sauce-soaked tampon in a gay guy’s butt if he deserves it (and he totally did). This does what I think “Funny People” failed to do which is provide a funny but sobering look into the life of a comedian. The whole film wraps itself up as Rock takes the stage one more time and fights off his own personal demons (spoiler – he had never done comedy sober, and now he’s terrified to see if he can) and kills it. Whether or not that’s realistic, I couldn’t tell you. But it was the ending I wanted.
So looping back to my original theme, this was a great conversation starter for my friends and I about rap and thefilm, Straight Outta Compton. It also led to discussions about our Top Five favorite comedians, actors, movies… you name it. If the success of a can be based off of the discussions it inspires, I think Top Five did a bang up job. Rock has shown to be not only a great comedian but a creative writer and director as well. While previously his more popular films have been strictly comedies, this shows a bit of his range as he takes a pretty serious look at the lives of popular entertainers.
And if that isn’t enough, here’s a video of DMX singing in jail:
And my Hip-Hop Top 5 in nor particular order: 2Pac, N.W.A., Westside Connection, Outkast, and Jurassic 5. And I’m going to take a 6th Man to recognize a young buck: Kendrick Lamar.
Who’s in your Top Five?