A boy (zombie) meets girl (human) romance that proves
chivalry is undead
Purists of zombie films will scoff at the fact that Warm Bodies doesn’t play by the rules of how zombies are supposed to act. They’ll feel that a zombie date flick is a step back for all mankind (and zombie-kind, too). This same problem came into play with the recent Twilight saga. Only in the case of Bodies there’s a greater sense of optimism at play, and it gets more out of its highly improbable romance between a zombie and human than Twilight does with its sparkling romance between a vampire and a human.
Jonathan Levine is a filmmaker that likes to play with audience perceptions and he’s done an admirable job at not repeating himself when it comes to his subjects. He’s a writer-director that knows how to give his characters space to grow and evolve. It was the case with The Wackness, a coming of age tale set in ‘90s New York, and 50/50, a comedy about dealing with cancer. His latest is based on a young adult novel and it got greenlit by Summit Entertainment – the same outfit responsible for adapting Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga – to see how much mileage it could get from teenage girls that are still hung up on the love between girls and meat popsicles.
Taking its cues from “The Bard” William Shakespeare when it comes to telling its post-apocalyptic star-crossed romance, complete with a balcony scene, Warm Bodies has a great set-up as we listen to the inner monologue of a zombie named R. Narration can be tricky if not used correctly, but Levine, knowing that much of what’s written in Isaac Marion’s novel is internalized, makes good use of the idea as a way to get the audience on R’s side.
What? An audience empathizing with a character that feeds on humans. That’s blasphemous.
Not hardly. Not when the zombie is played by Nicholas Hoult. Here’s an actor that could easily have been pigeonholed as the awkward kid after the success of About a Boy. Then he matured on the BBC program Skins, and would later get supporting roles in Tom Ford’s A Single Man and as Hank McCoy (aka Beast) in X-Men: First Class. Hoult’s outward awkwardness has diminished in ugly duckling fashion to reveal a young actor that could easily pass as Tom Cruise’s son in a film. But since he towers over Tom, his mom would have to be played by the likes of Nicole Kidman.
Hoult does a nice job as R and with his gradual awakening; his inner monologue and situational humor gags makes it that much easier to sympathy with his current condition. He may eat humans, but at least he tells the audience that he’s “conflicted about it.”
Regarding his “awakening,” that relays to the set of rules that Warm Bodies has created. The traditional zombie mythology has been infringed because of something R does impulsively when he and other zombies are looking for humans to eat. While the pack of zombies is busy feeding on a team of humans looking for supplies, R sees Julie (Teresa Palmer), and his heart starts pounding. Instead of making her his next meal, he smears her face with some cadaverine to keep the other zombies of picking up on her scent, and he takes her to his makeshift home in an abandoned airliner stuck on the tarmac. R’s home is a hoarders paradise. It’s full of tchotchkes he’s collected over the years, including an impressive collection of vinyl. Sharing his love of old records, and by old I mean the musical stylings of Bob Dylan, “The Boss” and who could forget John Waite’s ‘80s love ballad “Missing You,” the two start to bond. Who knew the way to a girl’s heart was a little “Patience” courtesy of Guns N’ Roses.
Spending time together, Julie slowly starts to realize that R’s signs of intelligence isn’t a just result of his saving her; isolated from humans the zombies have slowly been changing. It took R’s heart beating to speed up the process. This is bad news for Julie’s dad, General Grigio (John Malkovich), whose only method for dealing with zombies is shooting them square in the head.
To elucidate to the audience on the events prior to the zombie apocalypse the film incorporates a novel device of giving us flashbacks. However, it involves zombies eating brains. “The brains are the best part,” R tells the audience. It’s akin to the patriarch getting the big piece of chicken to eat. Eating brains allows a zombie to see the memories of his victim. It just so happens that R’s latest meal is in the form of Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco). Reliving these memories reveals that Perry has morphed from a sense of romanticism – as seen before the start of the apocalypse – to a man who has been hardened by the need to survive. Perry’s memories of his times spent with Julie only help to further R’s feelings towards her. And who can blame him? Teresa Palmer is a knockout.
The Australian actress hasn’t had a real opportunity to show off her talents, having had small parts in films like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I Am Number Four. She also has the misfortune of being mistaken for Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart. It’s to the point where people should just refer to her as “the better Kristen Stewart.” Knowing the implausibility of the situation, Julie’s feelings for R don’t come across as forced but what we would see in whole boy meets girl rigmarole. Hoult and Palmer’s chemistry is better designed than what the Twi-hards got with Stewart and Pattinson. Got to give it to Levine; the man knows how to get the most out of his actors.
Warm Bodies may very well be going for the disposable income of teenagers, but those hoping for a traditional zombie movie will be disappointed. What you get is a romance that is closer to John Hughes teenager films with the nerd trying to get the girl. In this case the nerd is a zombie but you get the idea. The movie is also big on the idea of communication. There’s a great sight gag about how we have lost touch of being communicative toward one another. The next time you see a throng of people moving in unison as they talk on their cell phones, oblivious to the world around them, just ask yourself are these people truly human? Silence your phones and engage in face-to-face communication, be it a human or a zombie. Therein lies the optimism at the beating heart of Warm Bodies.
Director: Jonathan Levine Writer: Jonathan Levine, based on a novel by Isaac Marion Notable Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!