The latest from writer-director-actor, Chris Rock, follows Andre Allen (Chris Rock) in one whirl-wind day as Chelsea Brown, a New York Times journalist played by Rosario Dawson, profiles the comedian’s struggle to transition from funnyman to serious actor. Top Five received rave reviews from critics and there are many things to celebrate about the film, but just as many things left me cold. Here are my top five favorite moments from the film, and the top five moments that left me puzzled.
Top Five Puzzling Things About Top Five
1. Jay-Z and Kanye West are producers on the film. West’s presence as a producer is especially interesting considering Gabriel Union’s reality-star character, Erica, who is engaged to Andre, is a hilarious, but very unflattering Kim Kardashian impression. One character says of Erica, “She’s a reality star. Everything’s up for sale.” Later in the movie she tells Andre, “This is all I have. I don’t have a talent.”
2. The depiction of women in the film (this section contains some spoilers) - Within seconds of meeting, Chelsea takes Andre to her apartment because she needs her trusty recorder to conduct the interview. Oh, and she has to change her outfit so she can surprise her boyfriend for his birthday. She then spends most of their day together texting her boyfriend. Here comes the spoiler – she then hooks up with Andre. She’s a reporter for The New York Times; can we have at least a little professionalism, please! Not surprisingly, this film does not pass the Bechdel test, which entails having two women in the film speak to each other about something other than a man. In the second half of the film, the tables turn and we learn more about Chelsea, but she is completely defined by her past dating experiences.
3. The limits of the script – the interview conversations between Chelsea and Andre start to feel like poorly scripted expositional therapy sessions, such as when she asks him, “What are you thinking right now,” “How’d that make you feel,” and “What made you get up on that stage.”
4. Sobriety takes up a lot of time and dialogue in the film. Both Andre and Chelsea are in recovery, and while it’s the thing that connects them, it’s also the theme that overshadows the more pressing question of what it means to be a black performer. These two things, performing and addiction, may not be separable in Rock’s mind, but the conversations about addiction are some of the film’s least interesting moments. Andre is famous for literally playing a talking bear named Hammy. This may be why Andre drinks, but let’s talk about the issue and not just the alcohol.
5. What is with the Cinderella princess stuff?
Top Five Favorite Things About Top Five
1. The AMAZING ensemble cast. There are too many hilarious cameos to name them all here; so, quickly I’ll just name one – Kevin Hall’s scene as Andre’s agent is worth the price of admission.
2. Walking and talking with Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson. Richard Linklater’s 'Before' series has clearly influenced Rock’s choice to film the characters in continuous medium two-shots as they travel through the city. Especially great is a sequence of Chelsea and Andre discussing Planet of the Apes intercut with shots of Andre hesitatingly attempting to jump rope … hilariously.
3. The editing in this film deserves its own shout-out. Fast, smart editing leads to perfect timing that makes several of the comedy sequences laugh-out-loud funny. Two that stand out, are the hilariously bookended scene in the XM radio station, and the fantastic scene when Andre visits his family. Two beautifully executed sequences.
4. Much needed discussion of what it means to be a black performer.
5. New York City – the best backdrop for walking and talking scenes.
Check it out on DVD and tell us what you think!
By: Lindsay Brayton.