Directed by Jonathan Levine
Warm Bodies is a smart, funny, and heartwarming romantic comedy... with zombies.
To Eat or Not to Eat
Hot on the heels of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters comes this genre-bender that mixes romantic comedy, Shakespeare, and zombies. This one’s basically Romeo & Juliet: Undead.
Typical of zombie movies, there was some sort of nasty incident in which a virus spread across the United States of America. Newspaper headlines document the downfall of humanity, with even the president falling victim to the brain-deadening effects.
Naturally, a band of doomsday preppers have sealed off the last bit of contaminant-free terrain and are defending themselves form the legion of lurching, grunting undead.
The action begins by introducing a zombie who doesn’t even remember his name, so he simply goes by what he thinks is his first initial, R. (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class). He might not remember his name, but his cogent and humorous voiceover comments offset R.’s physical dysfunction. And he certainly knows he’s not performing normally – that walk from the airport to the center of town is going to take a long, long time because the zombies move so darn slowly.
The best things about Warm Bodies are the sense of humor it carries for the genre mash-up and the heart the story has for the characters. What ties those two highly-successful elements together is a jaundiced view of today’s society.
At one point, R. yearns for the pre-apocalypse days when people enjoyed life and simply spending time with each other. The flashbacks to those halcyon days show people transfixed by their mobile devices, totally ignoring the world – and people – around them. There’s also a jab at our increasingly tactile-less world. R., as it turns out, is a scavenger for nostalgia; his collection of pilfered toys and trinkets transform his airplane lair into a man cave of pop culture. R. has ditched the iPod in favor of old-school vinyl. Why? As he so succinctly (and accurately) puts it, he prefers vinyl because it’s “more alive.”
The first third of the movie is a real delight, a pleasant surprise that comes out of left field (as most pleasant surprises do). That time is spent setting up the characters and very quickly establishing that the movie has a healthy sense of humor about itself.
Then the movie settles into the Romeo and Juliet storyline, which lumbers to life and winds up heartwarming.
Yeah, it’s cheesy to refer to a zombie romance as heartwarming, but that’s precisely what happens.
As morbid as the high-level zombie concept is, it’s used here as a touching way to evoke all sorts of emotions. And it segues into a story of hope for humankind and zombiekind to coexist. The spark for that reconciliation between the Montagues and the Capulets, so much like E.T.’s heartlight, comes from a very simple image, found on a billboard, of a couple holding hands.
Art imitating art imitating life, or something like that.
R. begins his human renaissance when he first sees Julie (Teresa Palmer, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Something about her triggers dormant feelings and genes deep inside; perhaps it’s the way she moves – with a rifle, while blowing away the zombies. She’s hot, she knows how to pack heat, and she knows how to run. For many men, that is a lethal triple-threat.
The zombies are of course seen as the walking dead, lifeless, brainless creatures with one item on their agenda: to sustain themselves by eating fresh human flesh. Eating brains is a sort of delicacy, one that requires a certain taste. By eating human brains, the diner also gets to experience that person’s memories. As it happens, R. eats the brains of Julie’s boyfriend, which generally speaking isn’t a good move in the romance department. Here, though, it works, given the sense of humor established early on, and that tone works its way through what initially seems like a ludicrous, disgusting notion.
As for Palmer, she has been a star in the making for a while now and hopefully Warm Bodies will be the movie that takes her up to the next level of opportunities beyond the fantasy-based worlds of sorcerers, spacemen, and zombies.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.