No film has captured the insanity of identity politics better than “Bodied.”
Sure, “How Jack Became Black” shreds the trend from a sober, and very personal, perspective. “Bodied” does it differently.
It views identity politics through lens of a rap battle royale. The results sound didactic on the surface, but director Joseph Kahn uses humor to make every observation pop.
At times, the satire hits way too close to home. No matter how woke you think you are, at least one of the film’s characters will think you’re racist.
Fair-haired Calum Worthy is Adam, a hip hop fan writing a paper on battle rap jargon. Yes, that means the “N-word.”
Adam interviews Behn Grymm (Jackie Long, outstanding), a rap battle veteran with a secret. He’s not really as vicious as he appears. It’s one of several ways “Bodied” subverts our expectations.
Our nebbishy hero gets drawn into an unexpected rap battle. More unexpected? He wins, big time. Suddenly, he’s squaring off against a rainbow coalition of rappers eager to take this white boy down.
It won’t be that easy.
Thank you SO much to everyone who came to see @BodiedMovie last night. We sold out shows across the country. I am blown away! There are only a few tickets left for tonight’s showings! pic.twitter.com/Dfb715PrcY
— Calum Worthy (@CalumWorthy) November 3, 2018
Creating a battle rap movie featuring a white protagonist is the first of many jabs at PC culture. Before you can say, “White Savior,” the film asks us to buy Adam as a budding rapper, geek clothes and all. He gets little support from his girlfriend (Rory Uphold), a Social Justice Warrior complete with her “The Future Is Female” T-shirt.
He’s also at war with his father, (Anthony Michael Hall, excellent in a too small role) a professor who epitomizes academia’s soulless spirit.
FAST FACT: “Bodied” director Joseph Kahn knew Calum Worthy was perfect to play his film’s main character. The problem? Worthy couldn’t rap to save his life … at first.
“Bodied” builds to what you expect, and the final battle is both blistering and over-extended. The screenplay still doesn’t know what to do with several narrative threads. Equally murky? How Adam’s willingness to get ugly, really ugly, plays into his character.
Rap battles are meant to draw metaphysical blood. Racism abounds. So does homophobia and nearly every other kind of hate you can imagine. It’s all in good fun, though, a way to let off steam and shred stereotypes … by embracing them.
There’s something reassuring about how the combatants torch each other without mercy before hugging it out.
The screenplay is often so prescient it leaves you gasping.
- “I can’t be racist. I’m Asian.”
- “At least you knew I was Korean. That’s culturally sensitive by battle rap standards.”
- “Your life fails the Bechdel test.”
- “It’s 2018. There is no private life.”
And yes, the battle rap lines are devastating, even if many can’t be repeated here.
Kahn, who co-wrote the script with battle rapper Alex Larsen, lets the dialogue flow organically, never upending the story’s stinging rhythm. The laughs are sporadic but huge. The film’s satirical swipes are legion, and they leave a sizable mark on Snowflake Nation.
Naturally, many of the scenes are set on a California campus where everyone, and every utterance, is racially charged. White privilege gets mentioned, and weaponized, while the kind-hearted characters cling to the notion that being woke will save them from social persecution.
Sorry, that’s not how it works.
Worthy excels both in the rap battle ring and away from it. You still crave more scenes of him with his father and girlfriend, all the better to reveal his true character.
An editor could wisely trim five to 10 minutes from the film’s two-hour running time. It moves fast all the same, rarely stopping to catch its breath.
Put “Bodied” into a time capsule ASAP. It’s a perfect snapshot of a culture that’s lost its way, fueling a movie smart enough to mock some of the reasons why.
HiT or Miss: “Bodied” lacks a persuasive ending, and the running time could use a trim. It’s still a blistering upper cut to our toxic PC age.