In Chris Rock’s new feature film, “Top Five,” which he wrote, directed and stars in, the question surrounding how a persons’ top five musical choices positively impacted their lives foreshadows, I feel, how people will reference this film in the years to come.
“Top Five” has already been compared to cinematic jewels that stand the test of time, such as Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” In my humble opinion, it’s richer than “Annie Hall” and much more educational, which is the best way to get your smarts—that is, accompanied by yucks.
It’s also a moneymaker, and Paramount knew it, picking it up after it premiered to strong praise during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Rock took pages from his own life and created a complex character named Andre Allen, a popular mainstream comedian who hopes to win respect from audiences with a new, politically charged drama following his starring role in the deeply lucrative “Hammy the Bear” franchise and making deep money with the catchphrase, “It’s Hammy time.”
“Top Five” is generous in many aways, and that includes casting. It features Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer and Tracy Morgan, among others.
Jay Z and Kanye West are co-producers. The film opens in wide release Dec. 12, and the music, which is inspired by the movie, will be released Dec. 9 by Def Jam.
Here is part one of what Rock had to say about “Top Five.”
AmNews: What did you set out to write a movie about?
Rock: I wanted to make a movie that felt like my stand-up, you know, with that kind of edge that made people laugh and made people uncomfortable, and was sweet and edgy at the same time. I hadn’t felt I’d done that yet in the movies.
Did you know that you wanted the main character to be a guy who had done stand-up and acting?
Early on, I definitely knew I wanted to play a comedian. I always liked the “Seinfeld” show, and I always liked Louis CK’s show, and I always liked “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and even the movie “Lenny,” which isn’t a comedy. And, you know, we made it a high stakes day, but it’s still a day in the life.
What was the thinking behind having the movie take place all in one day and in New York?
You gotta write what you know, right? And anybody that’s ever made a movie knows there’s nothing like the Friday your movie comes out. It’s hard to describe—it’s like the Olympics in a sense. “Do the Right Thing” took place in one day. It can be limiting … But honestly, making the movie in one day was more freeing than having the movie take place over 20 years.
What about New York City?
I love New York movies. I love Woody and Nora Ephron and Spike. But one thing I always notice about movies in New York, it’s not even a bad thing, but they always take place in one part of New York. It’s very segregated. It’s like they happen just in one part of the city. My New York shifts economically a lot, you know. One minute you’re in the projects, and one minute you’re at a press junket, and those things can be five minutes apart.
In New York, you’re always five minutes away from the projects no matter where you are. It’s the beautiful thing about New York. Let’s hope that never disappears. The poor and the rich kind of live close by. And I wanted to see that in the movie … CNN’s studio and the Apollo Theater are 10 minutes apart, you know what I mean? And they’re in totally different worlds.
Do you think Andre is totally comfortable with the fact that the old neighborhood is always a step away?
In a lot of ways, the movie’s about the slight difference in Black fame and white fame. I got relatives who live in the projects. Most of my relatives don’t make a lot of money … When I go to a family reunion, I don’t get served chicken first, like they’re serving an old person. It’s not like, “Oh, Chris Rock’s here.” I’m just Chrissy, and I gotta wait.
New York, you have to wait … until next week for part two.