Sometimes you watch a movie that works because it never tries to be more than it is, and yet it becomes so in spite of itself. That's how it feels to watch Chris Rock's Top Five, a delightful comedy that succeeds simply because it feels so effortless and most importantly, honest in what it's about. Chris Rock is one of the great stand-up comedians who hadn't been able to transfer his material to the big screen, instead flailing in lower tier comedies like Down to Earth or I Think I Love My Wife, but this time he takes a page out of Louis C.K.'s book and just writes what he knows- and it's nearly a complete triumph.
Rock plays movie star Andre Allen, who's had a hugely successful career as a former stand-up starring in a franchise called Hammy the Bear, of which he's made three and now wants to be taken seriously by releasing a new film about a Haitian slave rebellion. But no one wants to see him in serious movies, preferring him to just "be funny" (a common theme that's plagued comedians like Woody Allen and Louis C.K.), while he's afraid he can't because the success had fueled his alcohol and drug addiction and he's now fearful for his sobriety. The film sees Andre at a crossroads on the weekend of his movie release as he agrees to be interviewed by a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson), while also getting ready to marry his fiance (Gabrielle Union) a reality TV star whose only devotion is to the cameras (ala a Kardashian).
The conceit of the film allows for a constant exchange of flirtatious banter and confessions between Rock and Dawson, who share a great chemistry as they talk and banter their way across New York City and into various areas of Rock's personal life, including his family back home, his addictions, relationships, the realities of show business when you're a black movie star, and leads to the question of how to stay true to your art in a world where success brings out your worst self. All of this is incorporated smoothly and hilariously- this movie is more consistently funny than any other comedy I saw last year, and because it came from a place of honestly through of all things, gasp, dialogue! Most movies set up the jokes from a mile away and you see them coming, but the humor in this one springs from the characters and the relationships between people (although there are two of the funniest, most outrageous sex scenes you've seen in a long time in here as well).
Top Five revives the old theory that the more specific a situation is, the more universal it becomes. Not only does this movie touch on the common ideas at work in a comedian's mind on all observations of modern life (this movie is so alive and about right now that it feels more relevant than any drama that came out in 2014), but there's a moving and heartwarming romance at the center of it. You root for these two characters so much that this could well be one of the most sophisticated romantic comedies of the last fifteen years, at home with the best of the sparkling back and forth of a Tracy-Hepburn pairing in an old Hollywood studio film, but fully plugged into modern day sensibilities. Obviously that's a pretty high compliment, but I know it when I see it. Top Five is entertaining, accessible, hilarious and insightful all at the same time- I can't say enough good things about it.
* * * 1/2