Top Five April 17, 2015
“I just saw @jessicaalba. If this was 2007, I’d be really excited,” writes Twitter user @sexydeucedeuce. This tweet, vicious as it is, isn’t just spam Jessica Alba sifted through on an especially boring Sunday afternoon. She is reading it aloud, notably on national television, as part of one of Jimmy Kimmel’s viral specials — Celebrities Read Mean Tweets. Alba puts on that mock hurt face that audiences love, but what if she were insecure? What if she wants to, and has tried to, do something better than 2007, but can’t quite get audiences or critics to come along on the ride with her?
Chris Rock and Alba don’t have much in common, he being a rich comedian, she a likable but limitedly talented actress. But one thing is certain — in the public eye, their best days are behind them. Rock has become synonymous with the Madagascar and Grown Ups films these days, and Alba would prefer to travel through various Robert Rodriguez projects and weird indie miniseries’. You can hardly blame them for seeking out safety nets as they get older, but one can wonder if they’re satisfied looking back on their glory days while the future holds money and not much else.
If it’s any indication, though, Rock just isn’t the kind of comedian or actor to sit back and become a legend who hasn’t had a hit in years. He doesn’t want to merely rise up as a result of an out-of-the-blue, better-than-usual vehicle; he wants to bathe in the salts of self-deprecation first and then make us change our minds. So we get Top Five, a winning, dramatic (but funny), semi-autobiographical tale that goes for Woody Allen and James L. Brooks and smashes expectations. It highlights Rock’s many talents (he writes, stars, and directs the thing, for crying out loud), potentially redefining his career. He is no longer a supporting player to Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and company — he becomes the shining screen personality we’ve been wanting to meet all these years. It gives him a role finally worthy of his time. And he had to write it himself. So before naysayers can rip his head off in a furious Kill Bill sashay, they must pause for 101 minutes and watch Top Five — only then can they decide what to do next (they’ll probably end up apologizing for chewing on Rock’s self-confidence all these years).
Rock is Andre Allen, a 50-ish comedian who is nearing, or in the midst of, the stickiness of a heavy midlife crisis. His version of Alba’s 2007 is 2005, when he hit his stride as a standup comedian and silver screen star and was announced as the funniest man in America by Time magazine. Nearly a decade later, he has quit standup, is a recovering alcoholic, is marrying a Kim Kardashian-esque reality star (Gabrielle Union), and is sick and tired of people referring to him as “Hammy”, a stupid character he played in a stupid series of stupid comedy movies. He wants to be taken seriously — he is directing and starring in Uprize, the story of a Haitian slave revolution — but he is as apprehensive about his middling career as the public is. Will they accept their old favorite comedy star in something that isn’t pumped full of forgettable laughs?
He is as troubled as a combination of an angsty teen and a bitter divorcée, and when he is asked to be the face of a cover story by The New York Times, he hesitantly accepts (especially considering their chief movie critic absolutely trashed him in a recent review). The journalist assigned to pick his psyche is Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who not only asks Andre the expected hard-hitting questions but also provides him with some seriously needed conversation (you know, with a level-headed person). In the process, he rethinks his entire life, wondering if he really wants to get married to a diva or if offensive projects focusing on brutal Haitian slave revolutions are the right way to go on the rocky trail headed towards The Land of Being Taken Seriously.
Top Five is a Stardust Memories in an era of far too many dumbed down sequels and cash grabbers — where can one find comedies with intellectual, emotional humor these days? It’s not a gagfest, instead a life can be funny (and disappointing) kicker with sparkling dialogue and performances from Rock and Dawson that mimic Allen and Keaton, Chase and Hawn. The balance of drama and comedy scratches us in a soothing spot; it is essentially a movie where characters talk and talk and talk and talk, and we find ourselves looking at all kinds of conversations. Rock writes them as if he were recording the dialogues of his life and copying down the gems. B+