Fantastic Fest Review: Bodied makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World meets 8 Mile seem like the best idea ever

Who would have thought a Rocky-style film about rap battle would be so thrilling?

From the moment it begins, Bodied breaks every expectation you may have about it’s about. Two men are about to fight brutally, an act of violence about to go out. But no guns get drawn out, no swords clash out. It is a battle of two street poets, and with words they strike out.

No stranger to making music stand out, director Joseph Khan makes the camera flow around the rap-out, from extreme close ups to wide shots, we are always moving to the rhythm of the bars these rappers spit out.

From a safe distance, college whitboy Adam (Calum Worthy) and his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphhold) observe the massacre that’s in front of the play out. She asks what everything means and he mansplains the rules as condescend as he can shout out.

That’s as much as I could try and make it rhyme. The truth is that director and co-writer Joseph Khan has made the perfect sports film about rap. Part Rocky, part 8 Mile remake, part social commentary, we are thrown right into a world where the people right with words instead of their fists. Adam wants to write a thesis about the use of the n-word in battle rap, but he gets dangerously close to his subject when he gets discovered at an impromptu battle rap at a parking lot. Soon he will cross the line between observer and a willing participant who maybe enjoys the game too much.

A mixture of actors and real battle rappers gives Bodied a sense of authenticity that translates to great performances.

The script is air tight. As Adam dives deeper and deeper into the world of battle rap, we get to know the group of characters that populate Bodied’s colourful and thrilling world. Shoniqua Shandai is a revelation as the only female rapper of the film, Devine Write – and her interactions with Jonathan Park’s Prospek are one of the many highlights of the film.

It is easy to notice the social commentary Khan wants to convey with Bodied. Characters are constantly questioning the validity of battle rap when it is blatantly racist, homophobic and misogynistic, while others defend its place in culture. The result is a fascinating conversation starter about PC culture that should absolutely be had. One thing is clear, just because you’re free to say certain things, it doesn’t make you any less of an asshole.

The performances are great. Specially Calum Worthy as Adam. He’s a guy with a special talent, which is that he can lose the audience as fast as he can throw racial insults at his opponent. What starts as a school project ends up consuming his every waking moment, and Worthy does a great job in portraying Adam’s inner wishes and demons. Whenever he acts alongside Jackie Long’s Behn Grymm, you know hilarity and thrills will follow.

The best thing about Bodied are the rap battles. They start as spectacle, trying to get the audience to react and engage with the insults. By the end, though, the tension is built from the emotional stakes and heavy punches thrown by the relationships built between the characters. The first battle will make you cheer, the last one may make you cry.

 

Unfortunately Bodied doesn’t have distribution yet, but keep your eyes out for this incredible film.

Grade: Opening Night

How I rate films

 

 

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