Review: Bodied (Sundance)

Bodied (Sundance)
9 10

PLOT: A white grad student’s success in battle rap has unexpected consequences.

REVIEW: I’ve been hearing people talk about BODIED ever since it won Midnight Madness at TIFF, slayed at Fantastic Fest, and established itself as an underground classic that wound-up on plenty of critics top ten lists - pretty impressive for a film that hasn’t even come out yet. Newly acquired by YouTube Red, director Joseph Kahn brought it to Sundance for a sneak preview, and while it’s not part of the official lineup, it more than earns its place in a festival that prides itself on bold and innovative works.

Kahn, for those not in the know, ranks as one of the most successful music video directors of all time, having worked with everyone from U2 to Taylor Swift to Eminem, with the latter producing what must have been a project that’s close to his heart. It’s Kahn’s third feature, with his first, TORQUE, being a bit of a debacle, while his follow-up, DETENTION, was criminally under-seen and one of the better teen flicks of the last decade.

As good as that was, BODIED is something else. Kahn uses battle rap, and his protagonist’s journey through its ranks, as a way to offer sly commentary on everything under the sun. Cultural appropriation is one thing this confronts head-on, but it feels like Kahn and his writer Alex Larsen (aka - battle rapper Kid Twist) really twist the knife on outrage culture, among other things. The way the movie shows it, legit black battle rappers have no problem with a white boy joining their ranks - as long as he has the chops to back it up. The only problem comes from the well-to-do types that shake their finger at him, being everyone from his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold) to his academic superstar dad (none other than Anthony Michael Hall).

Our lead, Adam, played by “American Vandal’s” Calum Worthy, finds acceptance from his soon-to-be crew, a diverse mix, with enemy turned ally in Korean-American rapper Prospek (rapper Doumbfounded), Latino Che Corleone (Walter Perez) and a female African-American rapper, Devine (the great Shoniqua Shandai). His closest friend winds up being hardcore battle rap champ Behn Grymm (Jackie Long - in a fierce performance), who presents himself as a hard street kinda guy, only to reveal things about himself as the film goes on that, as Kahn points out, aren’t as surprising as our reaction to them- which reveal our own prejudices.

As BODIED goes on, Kahn throws in plenty of reversals, with Worthy playing Adam as someone who’s not necessarily easy to categorize - a bold move. Is he an underdog hero, or is he just a racist who gets off on sprinkling in epithets he otherwise would never use? Kahn lets us make up our own mind, and the relationship between Adam and Grymm is utterly absorbing, as is the utter willingness by the director to call the audience on their own shit. Are you outraged? Too bad! But wait, you think these are nice guys? Think again! BODIED has guts, and Kahn’s made a film that, while it’s slick enough that it looks like a big-budget movie, would never have gotten made unless by people like Kahn and Eminem, who don’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s among the most uncompromising American indie films in years, and if any movie deserves to be celebrated at a place like Sundance - this is the one.

Source: JoBlo.com



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