Warning: There are spoilers.
I was highly anticipating Chris Rock's new movie, Top Five. Rock has been on a press tour de force. He told Vulture that Obama's election was greater proof of white progress than of black progress; he put Terry Gross on her toes; and he called out L.A. and Hollywood for creating a slave state for Mexicans.
So when I saw Top Five with my family this holiday break, the last thing I expected was to leave thinking, "That was so good! It's the modern Roman Holiday."
For those of you who have not seen Roman Holiday, this is a 1953 movie that stars Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. It is arguably the best, if not one of the best, romantic comedies of all time.
There are many similarities between the movies. Hepburn plays Princess Anne, a princess of a fictitious European nation, who escapes for a day from her royal duties because she is tired of always having to act a certain way. Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian who is promoting his first dramatic film and is trying to be taken seriously because he is also tired of always having to act a certain way.
In Roman Holiday, Peck recognizes the princess but pretends not to know who she is. He does not tell her he is a journalist so that he can do a feature on her and how she acts when she is not under the spotlight. In Top Five, Rosario Dawson plays a journalist who lies to Rock. She does not reveal that she is the person behind a pen name responsible for very harsh reviews of his past films so as to get close to him for her feature.
And of course, both movies end with a dramatic moment when the two couples know that after a final kiss they will forever go back to their respective worlds: the royal court, the gossip kingdom of Hollywood, and the journalists' grind.
What makes both movies effective is that by the end you truly believe the protagonists like each other. The best scenes in Roman Holiday are ones in which Hepburn and Peck are just enjoying each other's company: they go for a moped ride; Peck plays a fun prank on Hepburn. In Top Five, Dawson and Rock deliver some solid playful banter: they discuss whether Planet of the Apes was the reason for Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination while they walk down the street; they laugh and talk about comedians on the subway.
Top Five is able to provide interesting social commentary because the core of the film is good -- it is a good romantic comedy. Chris Rock is not the new Audrey Hepburn. But he has built on her work. He has taken two of her essential characteristics, charisma and chemistry, and put them on screen.