Movie Review: Bodied

Prepare to be offended. The rap battle comedy/drama Bodied, executive produced by Eminem, is likely to push anyone’s buttons who watches it. While it gives an interesting look at the underground world of rap battles, it unfortunately is somewhat shallow and nihilistic in its views, It seemingly prefers to be about nothing other than how savage your rhyming bars can be as you put another person down. This is certainly entertaining, but those looking for a broader social commentary might want to look elsewhere. And any members of the PC police should leave their badges at the door.

Our main character is Adam (Calum Worthy), a college student and the son of famous Berkeley professor Merkin (Anthony Michael Hall) who is a darling of the literary criticism world, desperately trying to find his niche. He thinks he has found this in an academic study of underground battle rap, where he partners with a top battle rapper named “Behn Grymm.” (Jackie Long) Yes, that is a coded Fantastic Four reference, as he is a solid giant rock monster wall of the rap world. He IS The Thing. There are other incredibly nerdy references sprinkled throughout this film, as should be expected remembering that Eminem has repeatedly rapped about Superman, appeared as Batman and Robin in his “Without Me” video, and even contributed a Venom theme song to the recent film. Ok, maybe that last one we should forget.

Adam eventually finds himself pulled up onstage to participate in a rap battle rather than just studying it — and finds he’s actually pretty good at it. As he falls deeper into the rap world, he’s faced with ethical dilemmas along the way, from whether or not “the n word” is off limits to whether he should lie to his disapproving girlfriend. He joins a motley rap crew that includes Korean Prospek (Jonathan Park), Italian/Latino Che Corleon (Walter Perez), and female rapper Devine Write (Shoniqua Shandai) and it is fun to see this film’s take on what “diversity” means.

Unfortunately, the film falls into a (likely unintended) trope. Ever see a kung fu movie, tv show, comic book where a white person discovers they are somehow better at the ancient martial art than the people who invented it? Karate Kid, Iron Fist, The Matrix? This view shows up all over popular culture, and in this case, it’s the white person who is better at battle rap than all the people who came up with it. Ugh. Welcome to Orientalism, and specifically the “Mighty Whitey” trope.

And cue the discussion of cultural appropriation, which gets dissected plenty in this film. However, like most of the hard charges and questions the film puts out, none of them are ever satisfactorily answered. Which begs the question, what is even this film’s purpose? Is it just to be offensive? And is that, therefore, the essence of battle rap: there is no deeper meaning, it’s just insult comedy set to beats?

This film is the antithesis of political correctness. It celebrates how it insults people based on the race or background, but at least is equal opportunity in this, saving its worst put downs for white people. One rap battle between Adam and Prospek, he’s impressed that Adam correctly identified him as Korean with references to Korean food and comparing him to Kim Jong Un. “By rap battle standards, that’s politically correct,” he says.

There’s also a great conversation between Prospek and Devine where they both complain that the only insults they ever get are about their race and gender, respectively. They turn this on its head in one of the most satisfying parts of the film– however, in context of the critique of “self-deprecation as comedy” presented by Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, this film might want to rethink its choice here.

Its strongest critiques it saves for white liberals, and this is actually the heart of the film. Set largely between Oakland and the campus of UC Berkeley, our main character spends as much of his time trying to justify to his white friends why rap battle is worth serious inquiry. Interestingly enough, much like when he goes into rap battle mode to decide what put-downs are the best for his opponents, we see the group of white liberal students all sitting around trying to put each other down based on how racist or homophobic they are, using all of the buzzwords of political correctness. It’s a really great take on PC/ SJW culture– that essentially we’re just battle rappers in a different context. They’re not entirely wrong.

But, so PC police white liberals are too uptight. This we knew. And?

It’s really unfortunate that the film doesn’t seem to have a broader point of view than that. But maybe it’s just meant to be enjoyed, rather than thought about. It presents its subject as serious, but not really that serious. It, however, still hits hard, and should be taken seriously, if not literally.

3 out of 5 stars