PFF: Bodied is a surprise scorcher
It has been quite the year for stories about racial and economic tension in the San Francisco bay area, from the summer's one two punch of Blindspotting and Sorry To Bother You- and now with the late year surprise scorcher Bodied. From acclaimed music video director Joseph Kahn (who has worked with just about everybody), who has also helmed narrative genre features like Torque and Detention, Bodied follows Adam (Calum Worthy), a white privileged UC Berkeley grad student, down the rabbit hole into the underground world of east bay rap battles. His goal is to write his masters thesis on the poetic usage of "the N word"- but soon, Adam goes from an observer to a full on participant when his surprisingly good rap battle skills are revealed.
An older African American rapper, whose stage name is Behn Grymm, takes Adam under his wing to advise him on his thesis as well as show him the ropes of constructing the perfect combat verse. Along the way, an instantly memorable and equally diverse cast is filled out, as we meet the Korean American Prospek, Mexican American Che Corleone, African American and female Devine Write, and Arab American Megaton. Adam surprises everyone with his penchant for honest, insightful and witty verses. The world of the rap battles is a bastion of free speech, where dissing your opponent using all matter of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and violent speech is welcome. If you are offended by what they say, it's just on you to to throw it back on them when it's your turn. This change is incredibly liberating for Adam, but his newfound freedom of expression begins to alienate and infuriate his significantly more politically correct girlfriend, classmates and father, as a video of him spouting his "hateful" verses goes viral and he becomes the enemy du jour on the progressive Berkeley campus.
Even the rap battles don't happen in a vacuum though, as Adam eventually learns that words really can hurt as much as sticks and stones. Bodied is certainly not a movie for everybody, even though it puts in great care to even the playing field for everyone involved. It asks loads of questions and offers appropriately few answers. Perhaps its greatest salve, as smart as it is, is how damn funny it is. You will find yourself laughing throughout, sometimes at things you might usually feel really bad about laughing at. Since it is all done through the prism of art and competition, it all feels like a fair game. Though often scrappy feeling and underdeveloped in some areas, its cumulative power is undeniable, and will leave you seeing the world around you with a fresh new perspective. You might even feel a little more acceptance for people you previously couldn't stand- if only we could all be as skilled as Adam or Benh, and try to settle our differences in a battle rap.