“Top Five” lacks the common-man touch
I have a hard time caring about the problems of the rich and famous. There are a not-insignificant number of movies focusing on the lives of the extremely fortunate and the difficulties faced by people that occupy the top of the social ladder.
On one hand, this makes a certain amount of sense. Art comes from experience, and most of the people making movies that get a major release occupy a tax bracket highly favored by conservatives. They are simply writing from a certain perspective. But the more films I see, the more obvious this becomes.
Even films that feature supposedly middle-class families show characters that live in remarkably large houses with adults that seem to do very little actual work. Often, the jobs represented on screen are nebulously related to the entertainment industry—very few people in movies work as parking attendants or spend 40 hours a week in middle management. The lack of representation of real people in mainstream film is glaring.
So, when I watch a film like “Top Five,” Chris Rock’s latest film that seems semi-autobiographical, I find myself wondering why I should worry about the main character’s sobriety when it’s so obvious he’ll be able to weather any slip in recovery by applying a fresh coat of money. The stakes just aren’t that high. “Top Five” is fine for what it is and I have no doubt many Chris Rock fans will be pleased with the film. But I was never able to identify with anyone onscreen in any real way.
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is a highly popular comedian who no longer tells jokes. Allen has spurned his stand-up roots and films like his popular “Hammy the Bear” series for serious roles. The character is an amalgamation of Rock himself, Jay-Z, Kanye West and other high-profile artists with an overabundance of ego and a frustration with the media. This frustration doesn’t stop him from being engaged to a reality star dead set on broadcasting their expensive, ostentatious wedding for everyone in the country to see. In the film, Allen is in New York to promote his latest film “Uprize” about a Haitian slave revolt—and host his exclusive bachelor party funded by the Bravo television network.
As he makes his rounds in the standard entertainment press junket, he is shadowed by a New York Times entertainment reporter (Rosario Dawson). Through the course of the day, Allen is asked tough questions about his career and reflects on his addiction to alcohol and his retreat from comedy.
The story on the surface is boilerplate Hollywood. We have a meet-cute, a budding relationship, a return to roots, a misunderstanding, and a satisfying conclusion. What saving grace there is comes from a solid bit of writing by Rock and his usual competent delivery. However, Rock is not a strong actor.
At no point did I believe that he was anyone other than himself, and many times the attempts at emotional resonance fell flat in the face of wooden scene building. The film is funny in parts; it would be hard not to be with the cast involved. But much of the cast is a revolving door of cameo appearances. At times the inclusion of Rock’s buddies looked a little too close to the obvious nepotism of Adam Sandler (Sandler himself has his own cameo, alongside Whoopie Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld).
The cameos serve to distract from the overall purpose of the narrative, and often don’t lead anywhere interesting or necessary. Rock is simply throwing a few paychecks out to his friends because he can, which is great if you’re a friend of Chris Rock, but doesn’t serve the film in any meaningful way.
As I mentioned, the problems of the wealthy don’t appeal much to me anymore. Much of the film is too farfetched…and I was more-or less-fine with a talking raccoon earlier this year. I don’t buy that a New York Times reporter is a recovering alcoholic who was drinking hand sanitizer and Sterno just a few years prior to having a successful career and a large apartment.
That this reporter looks like Rosario Dawson is bordering on science fiction. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Or maybe, Chris Rock is simply too far away from the average American to make a film that appeals to one.