One of the most anticipated movies at this year’s Toronto International Film festival was battle rap flick Bodied, which screened during the festival’s 10 day runtime as part of the Midnight Madness program. No doubt most who sought out tickets for one of the coveted showings were interested in the film’s subject matter, gleefully awaiting some poetically brutal freestyle rap verses (or bars), but the real draw for many was the lineup of bona fide talent behind the camera, as the film was directed by Joseph Kahn, a well decorated music video director, co-written by Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen, Toronto born real life battle rap champion, and executive produced by none other than the freestyle rap grandmaster, Eminem. One would imagine that with such an authentic lineup of filmmakers based in the rap (and overall music) industry that Bodied would be a hard hitting tell-all look into the brutal world of freestyle rap. Although the second part to that assumption is certainly true, Bodied is a wholly unique beast with a part macho part goofball tone and story that I suspect most wouldn’t have anticipated. Not to say that this works against the film, on the contrary, Bodied will most likely be the kind of movie for many that they didn’t know they wanted but after the fact are thoroughly glad they got.
Bodied plays out like a hilarious concoction of 8-Mile and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, one dose gritty urban drama and one dose cartoonish fantasy. Our protagonist Adam (Calum Worthy), the scrawny and nerdy white graduate student (and perhaps the least intimidating person you can imagine), is working towards a postgraduate degree and seeks to base his dissertation on modern rap. This brings Adam into the world of battle rapping and, finding out he has a talent for it, throws him into the ring. The charm of Bodied stems from Adam, who is the last person you would expect to find throwing down insults in a battle rap, trying to navigate his new surroundings. Being an academic, and having extensively studied the art of battle rapping from a distance, Adam is one who simultaneously knows everything and nothing about the craft and the lifestyle that comes with it. As his new crew of fellow battlers, chief among them Adam’s mentor Behm Gryym (Jackie Long), try to help him along, no shortage of comedic blunders ensue.
Adam’s life begins to unravel when his two worlds, that of his personal/academic life and his new found career as a battle rapper, begin to discord with one another. Maya (Rory Uphold), Adam’s girlfriend, leaves him for putting too much time into his rapping career and, after a video of Adam freestyling blatantly racist verses surfaces at his university, he is immediately booted from the school. The film does a magnificent job of counterpointing the posh world of academia, where individuals argue endlessly on what is and isn’t racist to make sure they’re according themselves in a PC manner all while continuously dishing out endless amounts of passive aggression, to the grungy one of battle rapping, where direct racist and stereotyping insults are celebrated because they provide an alternative to personal dises. Through these comparisons and Adam’s naive exploration of his newly embraced culture Bodied raises some insightful points about racial tensions, and the rap culture in general.
If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to catch Bodied at TIFF this year you may want to keep an eye on your local Cineplex and head on over when the movie gets a wide release. Whether you’re craving some simple fun or want to sink your teeth into something a little heavier, Bodied should satisfy your needs.