Plenty of films shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) are likely to attract attention come the ever-nearing awards season: Downsizing, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water to name but a few. One such film that perhaps won't be bandied around has proved a surprise highlight of the entire festival with fevered word-of-mouth spreading since its sold out premiere late last week: Bodied, a battle rap film produced by Eminem.
The film, similar in nature to the rapper's very own 8 Mile, uses battle rap as a tool for addressing the increasingly fraught tensions surrounding race relations in America. The premise may not be to everyone's tastes, but director Joseph Kahn has honed the frenetic style he formerly displayed in Torque (2004) and the little-seen Detention (2011) to deliver a blistering ride of a film (think Scott Pilgrim after five adrenaline shots) jam-packed with moments that are destined to be spoken about both in the playground by teenagers and forty-something hip-hop fans down the pub.
Bodied is told through the eyes of Adam, a young white male with an unexpected talent for battle rap. The casting of former Disney Channel star Calum Worthy (whose series Austin and Ally gets a casual name-check) is borderline genius with the actor tucking into the battle sequences with a fearlessness required to ensure screenwriter Kid Twist's scenes hit the right notes.
If you considered battle rap a no-go area for you, the rapper-turned-writer, as well as music video director Kahn, have your back poised to change that one scene at a time; the opening alone sees Adam explaining the rules of the game to his uninitiated girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold) who watches from the sidelines as famed battle rapper Behn Grim (Jackie Long) - the source of Adam's thesis about "the poetic functions of the n-word in battle rap" - spits lines she deems too misogynistic and racially close to the bone.
The film wears its social critiques on its sleeve but crucially never aims to shock. Despite its zany almost satirical stance, this is sensitive material especially considering the adversity faced by many in America today. Its tone is best exemplified by a scene following the moment in which Adam, fully immersed in the battle rap game, throws out a sketchy line related to Korean-American opponent Dumbfounded's heritage: “At least you knew I was Korean - that’s culturally sensitive by battle-rap standards," he exclaims. The guffaws were deafening.
There really is no other film quite like Bodied - and it certainly seems to be whipping up a frenzy among distributors desperate to acquire the film for international release.
Bodied currently has no release date but we'll update you as soon as that changes (it's a matter of time). Keep it on your radar.