Title: Warm Bodies (Film)
Written By: Book: Isaac Marion | Screenplay: Jonathan Levine
Publication Info: Summit Entertainment 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
The movie is being marketed as a romantic comedy, and it is very funny, but only in a very dark, very understated way. There were only a couple of moments where I laughed out loud, but there were plenty of things that I was still quietly chuckling over days later. It's basically a variation on the Beauty and the Beast story, while also being quite overtly a variation on Romeo and Juliet.
Warm Bodies takes place during the aftermath of a plague of unknown origin that causes the dead to rise as zombies. R (played by Nicholas Hoult) is a youngish zombie (late teens or early twenties) who spends his time in the company of several other zombies at an otherwise abandoned airport. You'll be pleased to know that even after the end times, “The white zone is for passenger loading and unloading only”. R is tormented by having inner thoughts that he can't express, and by longing to make a connection to others. His one friend is M (Rob Corddry), whose vocabulary is limited to moans and grunts and occasionally a single word. Meanwhile, the unnamed city's surviving humans live in a walled off section of city under tight security led by General Grigrio (John Malkovich).
R and some other zombies encounter a group of humans who are foraging beyond the city walls. They attack them, and R kills one young man but is fascinated by a young woman, Julie (Theresa Palmer). R saves Julie and takes her to the abandoned airplane where he “lives”. As R and Julie become closer allies and friends, R begins to change, growing increasingly more human, and setting off complications within zombie and human communities.
This movie is a hard sell because it's a romance that begins with brain eating, and for reasons that befuddle me a lot of people have almost reflexively compared it to Twilight. I've no idea where the Twilight comparison comes from except there are teens in love and one is human and one isn't. This is as un-Twilighty as possible. What it is, is scary, and sad, and funny, and happy, and touching. I've heard people say that they won't go see it because it sounds gross, or because teenagers are boring, or because it's actually about necrophilia. Well, it's not, and they aren't, and it's totally not, so by all means, go see it if you want a quirky, darkly funny, very unusual romance.
The movie has very clever writing, but it really succeeds because the actors sell it. Nicholas Hoult does an amazing performance as R. He exudes vulnerability. You just want to hug him all the time, even when he has brains in his teeth. His performance is incredibly layered. In addition to be the most huggable zombie ever, he also has to be determined, and curious, and thoughtful, and creepy, and he has to do most of this without speaking. Theresa Palmer has a more thankless role as Julie – as far as I can tell, her job is basically to be really loveable. I did sort of like it that she actually acted like a teenager, not like a saintly adult. She was tough and she was fragile and she was smart and she did stupid things out of impulsivity. Even though I didn't always like her that much, she seemed like a real teenage girl might actually be in that situation – impulsive and conflicted and a little bit immature despite having many adult responsibilities.
Any self-respecting romantic comedy features best friends, and the besties in Warm Bodies are great – loyal, funny, and people who clearly have their own stories going on. Rob Cordrry gets more drama out of a scene in which he says two words (“Live? Eat!”) than many actors get from entire speeches. He also delivers the lines that made me laugh the most and he gives us the movie's crowning moment of awesome. Analeigh Tipton is hilarious and surprisingly kick-ass as Nora, who wants to be a nurse so she can figure out what's wrong with people and fix it. She's the closest thing we get to a scientist character and I loved her avid curiosity. As much as I loved Analeigh, I was disappointed that they didn't cast a multi-racial actress in the role, since the character in the book is half Ethiopian. Analeigh did a great job, though, and I'd love to see her in more movies.
Finally, the soundtrack is made of win. R communicates a lot through his collection of vinyl records because it's difficult for him to talk. From this day forward, every zombie movie has to involve the main characters dancing to Bruce Springsteen's “Hungry Heart”. That's a new law, one that I just made up, after seeing R and Julie dance around to it in the airplane. I loved it. Also watching the zombies shuffle en masse very, very slowly to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is not a sight, or a sound, to be missed.
I have two nitpicks and one major problem with the movie.
Nitpick one: The CGI is terrible.
Nitpick two: Why is it that after an apocalypse no one can wear brightly colored clothing? With the exception of R's red hoodie (“My hoodie would suggest I was unemployed”) everyone wears the same grays and blues that they wear in every other post-apocalyptic show. Is this a matter of natural selection? If the apocalypse hits on a day when I am wearing purple, is it easier for the zombies/aliens/killer germs to spot me and kill me, so the only survivors are those who were wearing boring colors? Or is there a post-apocalyptic law in effect that as soon as the aliens/zombies/killer germs attack, I have to drop everything and go put on some really dull-looking clothing before commencing survival activities?
My major problem is that, frankly, the concept that true love cures zombieism does not make any sense to me whatsoever. If you are the kind of person who absolutely needs the plot to make some sort of scientifically plausible sense, then you probably won't like this movie. Having said that, I was swept up enough in the emotions of this story to just roll with it. I actually thought the concept worked a little better in the movie than in the book, because in the book the author talks more about how the zombie plague is caused by some sort of mass human depression and the more he tries to explain it the less plausible it seems. In the movie, no one understands what's happening, but by golly they sure are happy that it works. If you are willing to see the movie as a fable about making connections and about the healing power of love, then you'll be completely moved by this movie. Goodness knows I was.
If you've read the book (which I reviewed previously for Smart Bitches), be aware that the movie is not nearly as complex as the book. Sometimes this is OK – I thought the ending worked slightly better when no one even attempted to explain it, and I rather enjoyed the stripped down love story. Sometimes this is a bummer – we lose almost all the world building that explains why the humans can't live the way the want to and how the zombies form their own society. I loved the complexity of the book, and I loved the relative straight-forwardness of the movie, and I can't wait to see it again.