Rap battles, eh. They're a lot of fun. But they're also often full of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and general advice along the lines of violence being the possible answer to everything. You can say the same of rap itself, of course, but rap battles have an extra edge. They ARE battles, with the words and rhyming lines being built into an impressive combo until the knockout blow is delivered.
Bodied, directed by Joseph Kahn (who also co-wrote the movie with Alex Larsen), starts with our main character, Adam, observing an evening of rap battles for his university thesis. He's interested in the use of language, particularly "the n word", and the idea of what is and isn't offensive when it's in the form of lines delivered by people who have created necessary personas for themselves while performing. After being asked to rap battle an interloper who tries to ruin the evening, Adam finds himself getting further and further into the world of rap battles, gaining more insight than he could have ever dreamed of, and even becoming friends with a very talented rapper named Behn Grymm.
Sometimes tense, sometimes hilarious, often offensive in ways that force viewers to think harder about what offends them, and why, Bodied is a two hour movie that flies by, thanks to the script and performances helping it to be consistently entertaining and interesting. It also helps that the central idea, although based in the field of rap, equates to an idea I very much ascribe to: you can joke about anything as long as that joke is actually funny or clever enough to warrant it.
Calum Worthy is excellent in the lead role, easily believable as a young men who feels out of place in the world he is observing before he finds that he has a talent for rapping, a talent that may get him just as many enemies as friends. Jackie Long is also very good in the role of Grymm, a man who best illustrates the clear divide that can exist between an individual and their stage persona. Rory Uphold is Adam's girlfriend, Maya, looking on in horror as she witnesses a barrage of what she views as incredibly offensive, Jonathan Park, Walter Perez, and Shoniqua Shandai all do well, and Dizaster is an intimidating "big boss", named Megaton, that you just know is going to feature in the finale. Elsewhere, you get solid supporting turns from Anthony Michael Hall, Simon Rex, and Debra Wilson.
What works so well here is the way in which viewers can be provided with a viewpoint that isn't necessarily a right one, or maybe it is. The choice is ultimately up to each individual, whether to go along with it or not, and the case is made in a way that would be welcomed by any top debate team. It just so happens that the debate here is taking place in the form of rap.
I've liked a lot of work I've seen from Kahn (who has a filmography that includes many music videos, the ridiculous Torque, and Detention), but this is easily his best work so far. It works equally as simple entertainment and a thought-provoking conversation-starter, and I recommend it to everyone. Well, I recommend it to everyone who can watch something about offensive material without getting offended by it.
Bodied is available to watch here.
Americans can also watch it there.