TIFF 2017: Bodied Directed by Joseph Kahn

Starring Matt Alpert, Carrie Bernans, Ashley Michelle Brenner
TIFF 2017: Bodied Directed by Joseph Kahn
Courtesy of TIFF
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When Bodied got announced as TIFF's Midnight Madness kickoff selection, no one really knew what to expect. The mysterious Eminem-produced, Joseph Kahn-directed movie about battle rap brought on obvious speculation and comparisons to Eminem's previous hip-hop film endeavour, 8 Mile. That's a fair association to make given that both films revolve around battle rap, but Bodied shows a much more in-depth look at what the lyrical blood sport is all about.
 
The satirical drama revolves around Adam (Calum Worthy), a young white graduate student in the midst of writing his thesis on the use of the "N-word" in the predominantly black-dominated battle rap world. One thing leads to another and his adoration of rhyming, mixed with a hidden talent for it, propels him to step into the ring himself — obviously leading to scrutiny form his friends, family and hypersensitive girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold). He manoeuvres through the "competitive poetry" scene with the help of veteran battle rapper Beyn Grymm (Jackie Long), who shows him the true ins and outs of the culture.
 
The depiction of said battle rap culture is spot on because Kahn employed those who know it best: actual battlers. From the screenwriter (Alex Larsen) to the terrifying antagonist (Dizaster), almost everyone in this film is involved with battle rap or is a famous battler themselves.
 
As Bodied flows past the halfway mark, viewers begin to see that it's much more than just 120 minutes of angry battle rappers hurling verbally abusive rhymes at each other. Strong acting chops from Long and Worthy make their rising and falling on-screen friendship feel incredibly authentic, while themes of social justice and racially crossing the line are shown in full, uncomfortably bright light. It's clear that with one hand Kahn is trying to shed light on the incredibly provocative talent that battle rap breeds, but on the other, he's furthering the conversation about race relations in 2017.
 
Bodied isn't necessarily a perfect film, nor will it be a big budget studio's first film festival purchase. That said though, there's no shortage of laughs or moments where you can't believe your ears. Battle rap fans will love it for its cultural authenticity, critics will love it for its strong messaging and casual moviegoers will simply enjoy a look into the world's most artistically brutal sport.