|Keep calm, don't be creepy, don't be creepy, and say something human.|
That's R. He can't remember his name -- only that it starts with an "R" -- but he's a thoughtful corpse if ever there was one. He spends his days meandering through his airport home contemplating on how nice life must have been back before the epidemic when people actually communicated with each other, and making futile attempts to connect with his fellow undead. Sometimes he manages a word in amongst the grunts with his buddy M -- a word perhaps, like "hungry." Then they shamble away in search of brains...
Julie and her friends are survivors. They live in a safely walled off part of the city, but occasionally have to leave to collect supplies and such. They are at a hospital for that reason when R and his hungry comrades shuffle in. Cue grotesque human vs. undead battle -- no, cue cheesy romantic music and slow-mo close-up of love-struck zombie-face. Okay... cue both. R is, let's say, impressed with Julie's skills with a shotgun, but then he's distracted by some less-skilled guy shooting his shoulder. Instincts kick in and R regretfully dispatches the guy, biting his brain which causes his memories to flash though R's head -- the guy was Julie's boyfriend, and through his memories R feels a connection with Julie. He's smitten and determined to keep her safe. She makes him feel... alive.
|Nora, Julie, and Perry, front and center. And other people, elsewhere.|
I am not fan of zombie movies for one reason: their existence seems to be for the sole purpose of overwhelming and shocking audiences with relentless and glorified violence, gore, and horror. So you may imagine my surprise when I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies, having never heard a word about it before, and thought, "I want to see that." I didn't believe myself. Clearly, I have since been convinced and watched it, and what's more, I liked it.
It's a comedy and a romance, but is still a zombie movie too. And though it is toned down with a PG-13 rating instead of the usual zombie-R-rating, things get pretty complicated when your hero is a flesh-eating undead being. R eats Perry, and probably others before him, and there's no getting around it. It's disturbing. But here's where this zombie flick differs from others: instead of expecting you to mindlessly enjoy it, it admits that the violence is horrible. (Narrating, R even says he'd appreciate it if you'd turn away, and I complied) R is first conflicted, then ashamed and regretful of what he did as a corpse, and if that's not a satisfactory apology for the mayhem, it's at least an effort in the right direction.
In the supporting cast it's business as usual for John Malkovich as Julie's dad, and leader of the human rebellion. James Franco's younger brother Dave Franco plays Perry, and he gets more screen time, and lends more to the story than you'd think he would. Analeigh Tipton is Nora, a completely typical "best friend" for Julie. And Rob Corddry is M, who gets a bunch of jokes and a good amount of development for being a corpse and a side character. And if corpses let go of any remaining shreds of humanity, they turn into "bonies," evil, totally scary skeleton-like zombies, who are exactly the classic zombie-antagonists the film needs.
|On a mission. Yes, this movie does actually have a plot.|
The existence of a movie like Warm Bodies seems paradoxical. There are no two genres so completely opposite as rom-coms and zombies, yet somehow, incredibly, it works. How, I'm not entirely sure, but I can't ignore the facts: It's funny and charming, and the hero is a zombie (except they call them "corpses," instead.) And our corpse hero is interestingly the source of it all. Nicholas Hoult does a splendid job balancing the wit and the awkward sweetness with the super creepiness. You think you shouldn't like him (because he's a zombie!) but it's inevitable. Via a clever and thoughtful voice-over, we understand him, and the humanity he's managed to cling to, and we begin to root for him; to win the girl and save the human race... or to just get those words out -- he has a charmingly difficult time with speaking.
Hoult's performance is the backbone and highlight of this film, but Teresa Palmer, who plays Julie surprised me by being very good as well. I expected a model type who is obviously way too invested in her appearance to worry about trivial things like acting, and that her character would be sappy and annoying. I was happily wrong; she is pretty, but in a realistic way, and is more typical of action heroines than romantic ones. Julie is wary at first (to put it mildly), but she and R slowly develop a light, sweet friendship. They're no Romeo and Juliet -- though their names awesomely allude to the couple, and there's a cute balcony scene -- but... oh, actually, that's my point; they're cute together, and it's fun to watch.
|Interesting fact: Palmer is Australian and Hoult is British. What is it about non-Americans who play Americans better than Americans can?|
The contradicting results of these effortlessly blended genres left me in a daze. It was disturbing, then gleefully quirky. Shallowly romantic, then selflessly loving. Campy, then strangely thoughtful. A little scary, and surprisingly funny. Never forced or awkward, (except when it was supposed to be) and I'm uncertain of what to make of it. Here's one thing I do know: this movie made me think, and that in itself is good. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but not with abandon, and elements that were hard to swallow made me more appreciative of the hopeful, endearing themes of life and love. Warm Bodies is now my definition of a diamond in the rough, just like its inconceivable hero -- they are odd and unnatural, but under that cold grey skin, a warm heart beats. And in that case, Julie's view of R mirrors mine of the film; as the story progresses with lighthearted earnest, and our hero finds life again, we fall warily, absurdly, and happily in love.