Top Five is a film dealing with important issues and very valid themes that are buried under one-dimensional characters, unfunny jokes and unnecessary continuous use of the ‘n***’ word.
Former Stand-Up turned actor Andre Allen (Chris Rock) struggles to be taken seriously in a harsh industry obsessed with reality stars and branding. When Chelsea Brown, (Rosario Dawson), a journalist, walks into his life they spend an honest day together bonding over their mutual sobriety. With the pressure of his upcoming wedding and flailing career how long can a recovering alcoholic last before cracking?
As Chris Rock is the writer and director of Top Five, the film does take a similar feel to his stand-up – it has something to say but lacks eloquence. It tries to tackle ‘race’, a massive subject, particularly within the entertainment industry by starring an all black cast. Unfortunately, its supporting characters are underveloped and seem to exist only to fill the world with foul-mouthed “hoes” and “dicks”. In the end, no matter what ‘race’ or gender you are in the film you are most likely unlikeable, exception made to the two leads. The film attempts to provide a social commentary on current issues like addiction, obsession of celebrity and reality TV, which are all very interesting and should be represented, but everything is so on-the-nose you end up getting bored. There are some nice moments in the film where these topics are dealt with brilliantly and we begin to see some characterisation of the supporting cast but this is then ripped away and replaced with a shallow stereotype.
I like Chris Rock, I find him funny and always with a valid point but when writing this I think he just needed to find a way to fill a feature script. If the film were to be condensed it might actually be half way decent. I was 40 minutes in and found myself hoping there wasn’t long to go until it ended. It is very dialogue heavy with the leads discussing the state of the world around them, which is good, the first time. The repetitive nature of these discussions gets tiring very quickly, almost preachy. The relationship between Andre and Chelsea is great, they flow naturally and feel complex as individuals as well as together. Dawson and Rock give good performances, it’s the script that is the problem. There are so many threads that if followed could lead to some great characterisation but instead we jump straight back into preachy, in-your-face issues, mode.
Andre plays a game with his family where you pick your ‘Top Five…..’ which is clearly where the film title came from. However, the game didn’t seem to have any significance within the story. The whole thing is a little muddled and confusing. The film would have benefitted from spending more time clarifying these ideas and the nuances than shouting at the audience for watching reality TV. Top Five is shot in an interesting style, where we almost feel like we are watching a reality TV show about Andre’s life. The camera ‘follows’ Andre around, down steps etc instead of just cutting away and it really helps build the tone and expresses the theme but subtly and much more powerfully. If the rest of the film had adhered to this rule it would have been much more interesting.
What is most annoying about Top Five is that it has so much potential and could have dealt with the real issues of today’s society in a meaningful way, making the film great. Instead, it tried to take on too much and didn’t know what to do with all the points it was trying to make and so resorted to just focusing on one repeatedly. There are scenes in the film which are perfect and expresses the ideals beautifully but these are few and far between. The rest is filler. The trailer is the only part worth watching.