This author has only ever seen one film twice during a single Festival run. That was Bodied.
Bodied will very likely will be the standard-bearer and standard for its particular subgenre of satire and comedy that will no doubt pervade (some) cinema screens in the years and possibly decades to come. A reaction; angry, searing and calculated though predominantly riotous to a modern political climate that cinema has only just had the opportunity to catch up to, Director Joseph Kahn and Producer Eminem have come hurtling out the gate with what is very likely the most regrettably underrated film of the year.
Bodied is set amidst the US rap battle scene and studious, outwardly straight-laced college white guy Adam’s (Disney Channel star Calum Worthy) attempts to profile the community and use of the N-word in battle rap. Befriending veteran Ben Grymm (Jackie Long), Adam finds himself competing despite the reproval of his partner Maya (Rory Uphold).
Kahn, known for his prolific and understatedly exceptional videography, here pursues two types of humour not widely featured in modern cinema. The first is a piss-take on anything and everything that skewers any subject from vegans to academia to various minorities to those who might not take too kindly to the filmmakers’ tone. If there is a criticism of Bodied and there are few, some of the overwhelmingly hilarious output, favourable for being itself apparently indiscriminate, numerously self-referential and none too pointed at any particular target, will only resonate so strongly outside of an American context and particular settings at that. A triple-edged gag relating to a campus Jewish group for instance objecting to Adam’s rhetoric will invariably click with some college alumnus or those of certain backgrounds, while the particular and implicit commentary surrounding freedom of speech on campus, while not unique to the US, is necessarily intrinsic to the North American setting.
Kahn’s stylings mirror those of John Michael McDonagh’s War on Everyone though benefit from not being the only breed of risibility evidenced throughout. The second brand of humour sustained pointedly attempts to challenge those who would readily assume offence from the filmmakers’ musings and likewise lampoon a zeitgeist intent on ensuring that films with content like Kahn’s, regardless of their intent, form or what they are trying to say never get the opportunity to say it. To this end, the staging of a barely-exaggerated dinner party ever prototypical of many current college environments which wryly registers as satire and too sports the film’s best non rap-orientated dialogue dishes out its own pre-emptive reprobates to a select and as Bodied posits none too blameless class who might see fit to dismiss or caustically revile this film.
Shifting between both modes to hilarious effect and dispensing irreverent gags with a careful balance of commentary that is the staying power of the film, it is a testament to the talent of those involved that this comedy, lengthier than most at two hours, does not drag nor feel tired or hackneyed. The rap battles are incessantly upbeat and captivating; each boasting a rhythm and quality distinct to the varied competitors, a number of whom we welcomely get to know.
More so, Bodied is appealing for not attempting to paint any particular character nor philosophy espoused by a very broad set of figures as ‘right.’ It thankfully neglects to, as is want to be the case in many films where a moral point is being made, encapsulate it’s apparent philosophy in the hapless exposition of one player, something that could have very laxly been done given much of the dialogue’s format.
An exception might be made for Grymm and his partner who aren’t portrayed, unlike much of our players, as wanton or deliberate instigators, though fairly even those rosier than others are shown to betray a degree of self-righteousness or schadenfreude in their interactions with others anathema as the tone of the film figures to any more conducively harmonious and inclusive environment. Importantly, Bodied also identifies the fault-lines of narratives counter to ‘political correctness’ that our mainstays adopt, depicting more than one character who would outwardly or coyly use the rap battle forum to espouse not that which seeks to highlight racism or discrimination but conversely affirm it.
One of the best comedies to be released in years, Bodied’s drawbacks are never major nor distracting. A heightened and exaggerated tone at the outset as we are introduced to Adam mellows shortly into the more grounded offerings that best characterise the feature. A protest sequence at a college campus, while fairly reflective of that which Bodied is attempting to satirise, still comes off as noticeably more hyperbolic than much else that transpires. Overshadowed nonetheless by consuming rap battles and brilliant sequences including far and above those at Grymm’s home, a vegan restaurant and a stand-out scene as Adam faces the academic consequences of his actions, given Bodied’s now wide availability it’s a satire that can and should be sought out.
Bodied screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is now available on YouTube Premium