Great serious comedies — an oxymoronic term, perhaps — are in short supply. Most comedies either try to appeal to the lowest common denominator or aim high and fall short of their goals.
Prior to Top Five, the idea that Chris Rock could deliver a great serious comedy would have been laughable. His two previous directorial efforts, 2003’s Head of State and 2007’s I Think I Love My Wife, weren’t well-received, and other than his stints in the animated Madagascar movies, he hadn’t exactly been lighting it up as an actor, either.
But as is often the case, when Rock finally decided to get personal, his best work emerged. Rock, who wrote and directed Top Five, plays the Rock-esque Andre Allen, a comedian/movie star who’s trying to be taken seriously as an actor after years of playing the ultra-popular Hammy the Bear.
There are parts of the film where the laughs are so big that it’s hard to breathe, and there are parts where Rock has you thinking more than you thought he ever could.
He’s got a new movie about a Jamaican slave rebellion, a pending marriage to a reality star and a big chip on his shoulder. New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) is tasked with doing an in-depth interview about him, and the bulk of the film follows the two of them as Allen does interviews and visits friends and family around New York City.
Rock enlisted a ton of his comedy friends, both famous and not, to play supporting roles, and that abundance of funny keeps the movie rolling throughout. What’s great, though, is that save for a few notable cameos, Rock uses most of the people in actual roles, letting them cut loose with characters without being shackled to their real-life personas.
But Rock has much more than comedy on his mind with Top Five. Through Allen, he ruminates on the trappings of celebrity, alcoholism, the often-wide divide between artists and critics, and more. None of it ever plays out like a full-on drama, mind you, but Rock eschews going for easy laughs most of the time, which makes the funny parts all the more uproarious.
Allen is not that comparable to Rock, mostly because Rock has never achieved the kind of all-encompassing superstardom that Allen does. But enough similarities exist to lend a whole lot of truth to Rock’s perspective on the life of a celebrity, and that lived-in aspect to the role easily makes it Rock’s best performance to date.
There are parts of Top Five where the laughs are so big that it’s hard to breathe, and there are parts where Rock has you thinking more than you thought he ever could. If this is what Rock is capable of, I can’t wait to see what he does next.