Chris Rock has had a bit of a shaky career when it comes to making film directing, with previous attempts Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife coming off as passable at best. But with Top Five, Chris Rock seems to have hit on something, probably precisely because it feels so genuine. Whereas his previous films tried to mold Rock’s persona into a scripted performance, this film embraces the type of style that Rock is most suited for, and that’s stand-up comedy. Sure, the film is a bit meandering and tangential at times, but think about how stand-up is delivered, and that’s usually how it goes. Eventually, Rock works his way back to the narrative through-line of the film, but the vignettes that break up the structure actually seem to enhance what would otherwise be a pretty standard rom-com narrative.
Rock plays a partially autobiographical character named Andre Allen, and the film follows him as he tries to juggle releasing a serious dramatic film, being involved in a reality TV wedding, and convincing the world to take him seriously and forget about his wildly successful comedy franchise where we played a wisecracking talking bear. Sitting opposite to Andre’s rants is Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), a journalist looking to shed some light on Andre despite all the tabloid buzz surrounding him. What ends up transpiring is pretty transparently predictable, as the two begin to realize a chemistry that ultimately leads to Andre re-embracing his comedic roots. And you know what, that works just fine, because the characters are likeable, and the conflicts they work through are relatable and cathartic when they reach resolution.
What makes this film stand apart is how the narrative will sometimes take a break so that Andre can tell an anecdote that will be visually interpreted through flashback and celebrity cameos. This is what is either going to make you love or hate this film. These asides are less akin to something you’d see in Family Guy and more like a narrative one would hear in a stand-up performance being acted out. Usually, these side stories are pretty funny, and it’s nice to see Chris Rock adhering to his storytelling strengths. However, much like a stand up narrative, the return back to the main plotline can be jarring, as the story is suddenly over and we remember that there’s actually greater narrative.
However, I think Rock makes it work. It definitely won’t be the type of narrative structure that many people find engaging, particularly those with attention spans short enough that the vignettes will distract from the plot rather than enhance the characters, but if you want to see the cinematic equivalent of a stand-up comedy show, Chris Rock seems to have delivered exactly that.
In fact, the film reminds me of the show Louie in that respect, though Chris Rock and Louis C.K. aren’t all that similar in their comedy. Any thoughts on that? Leave them in the comments below.