Top Five kind of came out of left field and those are oftentimes the best surprises to get as a movie writer. Six months ago, this flick was not even remotely on our radar. Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in the film that arrived at TIFF earlier this fall. Once it premiered, the talk about this Rock passion project grew exponentially.
In a somewhat meta moment of art imitating life, Rock plays Andre, a highly successful stand-up comic who becomes an enormous movie star. After hitting rock bottom and kicking booze to the curb, he suddenly finds he has no desire to be funny anymore and decides to be taken seriously as an actor -- thus his latest flick that finds him playing a Haitian revolutionary leader.
We meet Andre as he’s doing the press tour in New York City as his film is opening that particular Friday. He’s supposed to do an interview with the New York Times and after some pushing by his agent (Kevin Hart), he agrees. When he meets the reporter (Rosario Dawson), it becomes immediately clear that this woman gets him… so in many ways, she now is the audience’s eyes into his world and this story.
Top Five reminds us, in some ways, of Richard Linklater and his “Before” series. There are many scenes of Rock and Dawson just walking and talking through the streets of New York. And they have the best conversations about items as rich as race relations and being a recovering alcoholic to things as pedantic as reality TV weddings.
See, did we mention that Andre is marrying a Bravo reality TV star (Gabrielle Union)? And yes, their nuptials will be broadcast to the world. And if you can tell from what we’ve described so far, that’s not sitting too well with Andre, but what’s a guy to do?
Rock, as an actor, we’ve seen do his thing and he does his thing in Top Five. As a writer, we think his screenplay is rich and complex, even if it takes a few predictable turns. And as a director, the SNL vet has a steady hand and manages to simultaneously make a statement about celebrity versus talent, finding one’s true self and love that’s right and the love that’s wrong.
What strikes us the most about the film, our Top Five review has to state, is that there is a promise there from Rock of greatness ahead. If this is the first film that the actor wrote, directed and starred in (after CB4), and it’s this insightful, hilarious and heartwarming, we can’t wait to see what he does as he gets more experience as a storyteller.