Bodied, TIFF’s people’s choice award winner on 2017’s Midnight Madness circuit, has been produced by self-proclaimed “rap god” Eminem. Considering the film sinks itself into the world of rap battles and diss shakedowns, comparisons to Eminem’s 2002 8 Mile are inevitable and appropriate. But 8 Mile is most certainly a product of its time. The movie isn’t dated per se, but it represented an underground culture of individuals channeling their repression through rhythm and flow. With the culture now deep-seated in mainstream consumption, Bodied represents a modern take that’s talented as it is brutally unapologetic.
Mirroring the astoundingly cohesive lyrical streams featured throughout the film, director Joseph Kahn (Detention, Taylor Swift’s star-studded Bad Blood music video) follows a specific yet freestyling approach to a traditional coming-of-age tale. He’s also been gifted an incredible script written by Alex Larsen (also known as Toronto rap artist Kid Twist), a screenplay that embraces the humour and anger in hip hop culture while also acknowledging the details that are detrimental to the genre’s craft.
Our protagonist and soon-to-be anti-hero Adam (Calum Worthy) is focused on writing a thesis paper on the topic of how a certain racial slur is used in rap. He also writes from a music fan’s perspective – romanticizing the dynamic and underlining intelligence during rap battles. The fandom takes over when he becomes caught up in the world he only admires from afar, establishing himself as a quick-witted rapper while surrounding himself with influences and mentors. Over the course of the film, audiences observe how his interest-turned-career affects his judgmental friends and family, as well as how his boundless vocabulary sparks controversy within the rap community and his own circular climate.
Worthy, in one of the best leading roles you’ll see this year, earns our attention as Adam with genuine charm and intelligence; only to take us through waves of emotions as he willingly – but slowly – removes himself from his own comfort zone and voluntarily sells himself out to gain respect and clout with peers he geeks out over. Kahn’s ambitious filmmaking follows Adam faithfully with fourth-wall breaking visual gags and swopping edits that mimic the unpredictable ride Adam signs himself up for. But, while Bodied is an interesting character study, it’s also a thoughtful and current take on cultural offences that are in reaction to casual uses of cultural stereotypes and appropriation.
Is this when I call the movie “woke”? If I’m using that incorrectly, write in. In the meantime, let’s just call Bodied what it truly is – an excellent film.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie