10 out of 10
Calum Worthy as Adam
Directed by Joseph Kahn
One of Bodied‘s producers is Eminem, who covered similar material in 2002’s 8 Mile. That movie was directed by Curtis Hanson, who, while he was an amazing director, wouldn’t be the first person you would think to make a movie like this. 8 Mile is Hollywood through and through, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a good film. Bodied is a great one. It goes places 8 Mile wouldn’t dare to go, at the risk of losing its mainstream audience, but it takes us there because it is critical to director Joseph Kahn to show us not only the scene, but also on the conversations that absolutely need to happen right now – on race, sex, identity, politics, you name it. Truly great art is never supposed to be comfortable. It is supposed to offend, provoke, to air out the wound in the hopes that it will heal. And maybe it won’t heal. Maybe those divisions will remain, but at least those without understanding may come to have it. We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to believe that everyone deserves their say, and that everyone deserves to be listened to.
That Joseph Kahn has put all of this into such a wildly entertaining thrill ride of a movie is an achievement of monumental proportions. This isn’t some clinical examination of race and dialogue in 2017 – this is vital, and alive, and essential cinema, and it’s done with such humor and power that I am very excited to see what Kahn does from here on out. His Detention isn’t for everyone, but it’s playful and experimental, and Kahn is just as playful here, poking at old tropes and finding new things to discover about them. I love how Bodied gives us something of a bait-and-switch in how we feel about our protagonist, Adam (Calum Worthy), who loves battle rap and wants to explore certain avenues in it that may not be appropriate for a skinny white guy whose dad is a renowned college professor and author (played by Anthony Michael Hall). The movie sneakily plays with the ideas of white appropriation of other cultures, but Kahn knows what he’s doing. He’s setting up huge pins to fall in unexpected ways, true ways, and ways that may make a lot of audience members uncomfortable. If you don’t find something offensive in Bodied, you’re probably missing the point. Being offended is only the beginning of the conversation, and if you can get past that, truth can happen.
This seems an awful lot to unpack in a movie about a white guy exploring and succeeding in the world of battle rap, but it’s important that Bodied is informed by all of this. Adam wants to write his thesis paper on the uses of racial epithets in battle rap, but Behn Grymm (the extraordinary Jackie Long) thinks he has Adam pegged pretty early on. But the it becomes apparent that Adam, who has studied poetry, may actually be pretty good at this, finding “bars” that can dismantle opponents in fierce and poetic ways. Grymm decides to take Adam under his wing somewhat, to the consternation of Adam’s girlfriend Maya and Grymm’s wife Jas (Candice Renee). To other members of the battle rap community, such as Prospek (Jonathan Park) or Divine Write (Shoniqua Shandai), Adam is just a tourist, another white guy with racial pretensions, and maybe they are right. But as Adam progresses, no one can deny his ability, sure to be tested when he takes on Megaton (Dizaster) for the championship.
All of this sound familiar? If you’ve ever seen a sports movie before, of course it does. But Joseph Kahn uses those traditional plot points to explore those conversations that need to happen in 2017. This isn’t academic. If something isn’t done, and soon, this powderkeg of a world we live in could very well explode, and Kahn provokes in this painful material, for us to get past it and to see each other as human beings, even if we don’t particularly like the human being in front of us. While we are our race, our sex, our identity, we are also more than that, and Kahn uses the world of battle rap to peel away the veneer and get to the truth about ourselves. People that seem to be bluster and full of violence are actually more than their masks they wear in public. People that seem earnest and innocent are actually manipulative, venal, and cruel. Bodied wants to blast all of the artifice away with the subtlety and the explosive power of a nuclear bomb, and what is left, perhaps, can be built upon.
Bodied is brutal, funny, intense, and unflinching. I’ve never seen a film at Fantastic Fest get a standing ovation before. This one did. This is, perhaps, the most important film to come out of the festival this year, especially this year, when we are having conversations on how we treat and respect each other. Those conversations are not pleasant, but absolutely crucial. To studios eyeing this for distribution, you better not touch a frame in the editing room. It is rare that I see such a vital, important piece of art come packaged like this, and before anyone thinks Bodied may be too much homework and not enough play, I missed a lot of chunks of dialogue to the explosive laughter. This is a joyous, needed, alive movie, and one that I hope, once it gets in front of audiences, incites calls to action and real, honest communication. Bodied is a masterpiece.