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Bodied (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 27, 2023


BODIED (2017)

Starring Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Jonathan “Dumbfoundead” Park, Shoniqua Shandai, Walter Perez, Charlamagne tha God, Dizaster, Anthony Michael Hall, Debra Wilson, Lisa Maley, Eddie Perino, Eric Allen Smith, Candice Renée, Daniel Rashid, Vivian Lamolli, Matt Alpert, Sloane Avery and Faithe Herman.

Screenplay by Alex Larsen.

Directed by Joseph Kahn.

Distributed by Neon. 121 minutes. Rated R.

Screened at the 2018 Philadelphia Film Festival.

I had the opportunity to watch Bodied at the 27th Philadelphia Film Festival. It was a late night, 10 pm showing and included a post-film Q&A session with Director Joseph Kahn, and actors Jackie Long and Calum Worthy. The film society presenters had been talking up Bodied all week with a focus that it was a good film to see with a good audience in a theater.

They weren’t wrong.

Bodied is funny and smart, quick witted and quick spoken, poetic and timely. As an audience member, I fed off of the laughter and energy of my fellow viewers, and we laughed a lot.

The film opens with Adam (played by Disney alumnus Calum Worthy), a college student working on his thesis focused on “The use of the N-word” in battle rap. He attends an underground battle with girlfriend Maya (played by Rory Uphold). Adam spends his time caught between his admiration and fandom of the rappers, particularly master rapper Behn Grymm (played by Jackie Long) and apologetically rap-splaining what is happening to uptight, vegan Maya.

Adam has the opportunity to interview – and more importantly, create an initial mentor bond – with Behn. Behn then steps into the mentor role officially after Adam gets “discovered” when he is pulled into a parking lot rap battle and wins!

It was fun to see Anthony Michael Hall in the role of Adam’s heart-throb English professor (plus a little extra twist), who downplays Adam’s thesis idea and tries to guide Adam down a less controversial and less relevant path.

The film really develops around Adam and Behn’s friendship as they attend various battles with a host of other rappers, noteworthy in their racial and gender diversity.

And yeah, as expected, the language is harsh, but timely and well written. Beyond words, there is also some brief nudity and sexual content. As Jackie Long wisely pointed out in the Q&A, if you allow your kids to see the film, GO WITH THEM.

Jackie Long, Calum Worthy and Joseph Kahn at the Philadelphia Film Festival Q&A for “Bodied.”

Highlights from the Q&A:

Director Joseph Kahn gave the audience some insight into why he chose to make a film about battle rap. He was interested in how with battle rap, a white guy and a black guy can be in a ring saying the meanest stuff to one another. They can be racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, anything, for 45 minutes and then get out of the ring and grab a beer together.

He reached out to Kid Twist (Alex Larsen) as a skilled battle rapper. They flushed out the story, something like 100 scenes, then Kahn left to work on some music videos. When they reconnected, Larsen had written the full script – he didn’t wait for Kahn! Kahn read it, thought it was hilarious and said, “this guy’s a better writer than me.” So, they used Larsen’s script and filmed the movie.

Kid Twist is like Shakespeare and wrote 70% of the raps. They did hire 25 different battler rappers to perform in Bodied. When they are rapping, it is their original work, but all of the raps by Long and Worthy were written by Larsen.

Worthy said it was easy to do the lines and the rapping, because it was the smartest script he had ever read. He felt that every word was there for a purpose. He didn’t want to miss even one word or line and so worked extra hard to get it right. Every line drove the story forward – there were no fillers, which he loved. He was the world’s worst rapper when rehearsals started, but he had the opportunity to be coached by some of the best rappers over a period of two months.

So, how did he get the part if he was the worst rapper ever? Kahn says he knew they had an amazing script. He thought every young, white dude is going to want to play the part of a rapper, that every black guy was going to want to be a rapper in the film. It didn’t turn out that way. The feedback they got was that the black guys didn’t want to use the N or F word and the white guys didn’t want to play a villain.

When you see the movie on the screen, it doesn’t come off as that offensive. But when you read it on paper, there’s a racist joke and a sexist joke, it comes off super offensive. Without the context, everyone bailed. In the end, Calum was the best actor, but then he also had this “Disney Quality.” They asked, are you sure you want to do this? He said “Yes, I’m an actor,” and then suggested that he will never be allowed to work for Disney again…

With Long, Khan had the expectation/stereotype that all black guys could rap. To his surprise, he found out that “no black guys can rap. The only one who could was Jackie.” When everyone else did the lines, it just seemed mean. When Long read them, it was like he was seducing them. He was so charming that he got the part.

Long said he was so thankful for this role and film. There were so many words used that he didn’t know could be used in battle rap. He was grateful for the real battle rappers on set. He and Worthy did no adlibbing, they went completely by the script. Their last scene was like nine pages of rap and they shot the film in 22 days, so they had to do so much studying to get it all. Long said he had never had to study for something so hard in his life and both actors appreciated each other’s commitment and professionalism.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: October 26, 2018.


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