“Great to be here in Toronto,” says the comedian with a brief eye scan of the crowd; he has a puzzled ‘I’m thinking’ brand of expression on his face that anyone with a familiarity to his trademarked style of comedy would pick up on: he’s about to say something funny. “Just bumped into The Weeknd at my hotel who was in the lobby, saw Drake at Sunglass Hut, saw Tracy McGrady with his old knees, it was great.”
Silence within the 2000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre turns to booming laughter, a response Chris Rock treats with a grin. It’s a half smirk that no doubt comes from years of expecting the imminent chuckles that comes with his variety of no-holds-barred humour. In response, his audience often expects to laugh in the presence of the blunt comedian that once said, “kids need bullying.” His latest film writing endeavour, Top Five, which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, was in similar ways an example of this back and forth, give and take relationship between the comedian and his audience and the pressures that come with that role.
Chris Rock’s character in the film, Andre Allen, is an embodiment of this pressure when he utters the words, “I don’t feel funny anymore.” It sets the tone for much of the films’ main purpose. In a case of art imitating life, a former standup comedian, Allen chooses to move onto the big screen with some relative success. The inevitable conflict of course arises when the actor decides that he wants to step away from his typecast actor status in comedies like Hammy the Bear, in order to step into more serious roles like UpRize!, an ironic and comically bad interpretation of the 1791 Haitian Revolution. New York Times journalist, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), is tasked with getting to the bottom of why Allen has lost his touch.
The smooth delivery of jokes combined with the comedy sketch style of each segment has Chris Rock’s signature timing written all over it.
Much of the film plays out like a long conversation, with Brown inspiring anecdotes and flashbacks out of Allen during her many interviews. The style gives the film the liberty to take viewers to outrageous situations involving threesomes and drunk tirades all in an effort to provide insight into what led the fallen comedian on his current path. At risk of becoming a convoluted mess, the ‘remember when’ method of banter throughout the 24-hour period seems to work well in bringing the audience closer to the characters involved. Simultaneously it provides an amazing cast of comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric The Entertainer, Kevin Hart and Whoopi Goldberg) a platform to inject their own personalities into the mix.
The smooth delivery of jokes combined with the comedy sketch style of each segment has Chris Rock’s signature timing written all over it. He feels just like the Rock many viewers have grown to love with an added dimension of sensitivity that comes with a character that’s trying to find himself again. After the off and on successes in writing that came in the form of I Think I Love My Wife, and Good Hair, it seems like Chris Rock has helped in creating a film that’s marketable and guaranteed to make viewers laugh.
Words By. Noel Ransome + Photos By. Isa Ransome