Directed by Joseph Kahn.
Starring Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Dizaster, Anthony Michael Hall, Jonathan Park, Walter Perez, Shoniqua Shandai, Charlamagne Tha God, Debra Wilson, Daniel Rashid, Eric Allen Smith, Eddie Perino, Candice Renee, Sloane Avery, Daffany McGaray Clark, Tony ‘Madness’ Gomez, Faithe Herman, Corey Charron, Vivian Lamolli, and Yves Bright.
A progressive graduate student finds success and sparks outrage when his interest in battle rap as a thesis subject becomes a competitive obsession.
Whatever opinions one may have on rap music, specifically battle rapping, are strongly advised to be left at the door; either way, you’re coming away from Bodied (backed by notable industry talent comprised of producer Eminem, writer Kid Twist, and go-to music video director Joseph Kahn) with an updated perspective. However, the real pleasant surprise is just how overwhelmingly provocative the experience is regarding the current state of political correctness along with the movement’s ability to flip lives upside down in an instant due to the rise of social media, a digital invention that has now become ingrained into almost everyone’s daily routine. At one point a character remarks that a private life no longer exists, a statement made all the more horrifying when you stop for a quick minute considering its validity.
Realistically speaking, it’s safe to assume that plenty moviegoers (and I sincerely hope that this one finds as large a following as possible) will not be firmly familiar with battle rap, so the narrative uses Adam Merkin (Disney star Calum Worthy leaping from family-friendly entertainment to some of the most offensive, racist, and all-around crude material imaginable) as a wiry, nerdy, white college graduate gathering information on the poetic game of angry words by interviewing popular underground star Behn Grymm (Jackie Long easily capable of adding the necessary fiery delivery to the insults but also turning in a revelatory performance that transcends in emotional power as the layers and truth behind his character are slowly revealed over time) on various subjects ranging from bar structure, rhyming, the potential of going too far with verbal beatdowns, and the amusing but intelligently approached concept of the correct placing of black people dropping an N-bomb.
His interest gradually becomes addictive following an impromptu outdoors match-up where he, much to his own surprise, lays the smackdown on a nobody heckler. Of course, problems begin to pile up as his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold serviceably functioning as the annoying, triggered by more micro-aggressions than I knew were a thing, living embodiment of outrage culture) disapproves of the cultural appropriation, blatant stereotyping, and gross objectification of women that go hand-in-hand with the lyrical boxing. Fellow classmates and school authorities also take punishing action upon witnessing viral footage of the controversial language, and although the backlash is presented for laughs, it does happen in the real world (I have seen wrestlers get invited for WWE tryouts only to have the opportunity stripped away because some crazy person dug up an insensitive tweet from young and impressionable days of high school) reminding us once again that in our age, words do have consequences. Whether it’s actually offensive or not is up for debate. To a minor fault, the satirical elements of Bodied don’t always jive with the unsettling cautionary tale bubbling under the surface of how quickly someone can lose everything they value in life.
Simultaneously, Bodied is aware of the ocean-sized disconnect between these opposing viewpoints and addresses them from a myriad of perspectives. Some viewers might come away frustrated that the film doesn’t necessarily take a hard stance on these hot-button topics, but it is one hell of an addition to the dialogue. It could very well be a wake-up call to those shaming the game or enrich already existing thoughts, but regardless of how you feel about battle rap after the movie, there’s no denying that Bodied is a loving tribute to the harsh artform. The script understands the negative stigma associated with battle rap and isn’t afraid to acknowledge that and subvert expectations. A two-hour movie consisting of mostly insults referencing anything and everything across mainstream relevance easily could have stagnated into a tiring pattern of repetition, but to the credit of the filmmakers no single exhibition feels the same; there are competitors of all races, a woman, tag-teams, and even a truly genius segment flipping the script having members of a race put themselves on blast. There are also a number of stylistic visual cues that add a little flash to the burns, which are subtle and don’t distract from the drama.
None of that compares to a personal showdown that wildly spirals out of control into something both tragic and thunderously intense. You’re going to need to see Bodied more than once; there’s no way a packed auditorium or anyone at home can refrain from drowning out subsequent lines with their slack-jawed “DAMN!” reactions. Trust me, the ending is a fucking barnburner, approximately 30 minutes of electrifying warring words with a particular sequence acting as the equivalent to dynamite. Best of all, the narrative comes full circle; Bodied is also a classic tale of obsession sending up love for rap battling while forcing us to collectively rethink what is and isn’t offensive. Assuredly, that will immediately turn away some viewers, but it’s their loss, as this is a rare breed of film that is both rapturously entertaining and thematically poignant. It may go down as the single most important film of 2018.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com