Top Five

January 6, 2015 at 9:16 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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I left this film wanting to talk about and process it more than any film I have seen in a long time. It was so packed with big, button pushing ideas that it could sustain a second viewing or probably several with different, strongly-opinioned people; the debates would never be the same. On the surface, it has the structure of a very common Rom-Com trope: two people fall in love over the course of an evening while walking around a big city (often New York, in fact).  This film is that film and, as far as those types of films go, it isn’t a bad one: funny, tender, insightful at times and with a clever Cinderella metaphor running throughout. But this story is so much more than that. You realize you are in for sly social and cultural commentary early on when the re-envisioned Cinderella story is first introduced. Chris Rock is one of the most important comics in America today but unlike Stephen Colbert (who is his comic equal in intellect and cultural insight), he has never become one of the most influential. He should be and this film proves why. Yet it may also prove why he is not. His insights into American culture today are biting, brilliant and spot-on but his voice is so completely an African American one that I’m afraid the message feels inaccessible to White American (perhaps in the same way that an O’Reilly lover may not even get why he doesn’t get Colbert). Rock has written and directed this is a movie, which spans the most personal to the most global of themes. He plays a comic who made his money playing a costumed bear in a series of movies (“Madagascar,” anyone?) who now wants to be taken seriously as an actor and a person by friends, fans and the media. There is commentary here about being Black and famous in this country today, about celebrity in general, about reality television, about gender & relationships in the Black Community and a whole variety of other issues. The characters played by Rock and Rosario Dawson (“Kids,” “Sin City” I & II, “Clerks” II & III) are both alcoholics in recovery.  The AA term, “rigorous honesty,” is one of the running themes, not only as it refers to their burgeoning relationship but also, it seems to me, as it refers to comedy and this film. Isn’t this what the greats strove for (and I mean Bruce, Carlin, Pryor)? Rigorous honesty, no matter how embarrassing or inflammatory. Rock strives for it here but I don’t know how to assess how well he succeeds. In one scene, he finds himself in jail across from rap star DMX, who is playing himself.  What unfolds is so packed with meaning that it was difficult for me to grasp what Rock is trying to say. In fact, several times, I felt like the commentary was so outside of my own experience that I only sensed that I was missing something brilliant. If I have any criticism it’s that the film sometimes felt over-crowded, as though Rock had so much to say, he didn’t know what to leave out.  There was scene with Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld that fell flat.  The three of them added nothing to the film and were too busy being amused with themselves to even be funny.  This is a small complaint and the bigger one is perhaps more a concern than a complaint: how does a voice as rigorously honest as Rock’s get heard?

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