Warm Bodies: An ’80s Rom-Com with Zombies

I feel so behind on movies right now. But who cares, right? Because it’s only those awful spring movies. Fortunately, the movie I’m about to review isn’t awful like the other movies I’ll see in the coming weeks. So let’s not waste time because I want to talk about Warm Bodies, like, now.

First, we need to address the Team Edward elephant shrieking in the room because I know somebody (most likely a hormonally-blinded tween with internet access) will comment angrily on this post if I don’t. And I’m in no mood for such OMGs. So here’s the deal. Warm Bodies is NOT Twilight fan-fiction. Sure, it’s a film produced by Summit Entertainment, the same production company that produced the Twilight Saga, and the target audience is similar, but it isn’t an attempt to recreate Twilight with zombies.

Actually, Warm Bodies is a novel by Isaac Marion, which I believe came out in 2010. While we can argue that Marion marketed his book well during a time of supernatural romance novel consumption, I do think his idea was fairly original among the vampire, werewolf, and witch stories. I really wanted to read this book before I saw Warm Bodies this last weekend because I think a lot of good background information in a book is lost in translation to its film. Sadly, I didn’t have time. Nevertheless, I’m still going to buy it and read it. But enough about books. I’m probably scaring some of you. Let’s talk about the movie…

Here’s how Summit Entertainment described the plot: “A funny new twist on a classic love story, Warm Bodies is a poignant tale about the power of human connection. After a zombie epidemic, R, a highly unusual zombie, encounters Julie, a human survivor, and rescues her from a zombie attack. Julie sees that R is different from the other zombies, and as the two form a special relationship in their struggle for survival, R becomes increasingly more human—setting off an exciting, romantic, and often comical chain of events that begins to transform the other zombies and maybe even the whole lifeless world.”

Imagine the quirky horror of Zombieland (2009) with the awkward charm of Sixteen Candles (1984). That, my friends, is Warm Bodies. I really love what director and screenwriter Jonathan Levine did with Isaac Marion’s novel. Rather than trying to take a book that was already somewhat of a “WTF?” concept and turning it into a serious romance, Levine had fun with this story. And it definitely showed in the dialogue and actions of Warm Bodies‘ characters. It was also nice, for once, to get away from the borderline oversaturation of the “walking dead” to get a fresh perspective of the genre. And by that I mean from the perspective of the zombies, themselves.

The movie follows main character R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who lives a monotonous existence of stumbling around an abandoned airport with other zombies and hanging out with his best friend, M (Rob Corddry), with whom he “occasionally has conversations” that consist of groans and grunts. Although R remembers nothing of his previous life as a human, he does have an unusual sense of humanity and self-awareness, through which the audience is given some hilarious monologues (like his assumption that he was unemployed in his human life simply because he’s wearing a dirty hoodie).

In fact, I would argue that R is the most human out of all of the characters in this movie, including those that are human. He describes himself as “conflicted” about his flesh-eating lifestyle and fears becoming a mindless skeleton like the “bonies,” who are basically the zombies that are so far gone that they’ve turned into savage monsters (I think I’m sensing a metaphor here). But it’s not just the constant questioning of his purpose in the post-apocalyptic world that makes R so relatable. It’s also his hoarding of trinkets, old vinyl records, books, and various other human possessions that remind him of what it was like to be human—you know, things that we, too, continue to keep because they remind us of the people we once were.

I should mention that Hoult (who you may better remember as the little boy from About a Boy) has a natural allure that helps convince us of R’s humanity as well. Despite playing a zombie, Hoult makes R seem like any young man caught in the woes of lovesickness with a young woman he can’t have. It’s impossible not to laugh at R’s awkward attempts to get to know his human love interest, Julie (Teresa Palmer), because Hoult acts just like a normal dude constantly shrugging and telling himself not to be creepy. Something about it makes you want to shake your head while also thinking he’s absolutely adorable. I imagine part of that has to do with the fact that it’s hard not to notice how breathtakingly beautiful Hoult is, even under all of his zombie makeup (Seriously, is there something in the water in Great Britain? Why are their young male actors so beautiful?).

Strangely, Rob Corddry, who plays R’s best friend, M, acts more human as a zombie in Warm Bodies than he has in any of his other movie roles. It reminded me of when we finally saw Will Ferrell branch away from his ridiculous comedies to do the more subtle, heartfelt Stranger Than Fiction. Corddry didn’t act like the obnoxious man-child that he usually plays. Sure, he still got to display his comedy prowess—like when he kills some bonies with an airport baggage cart, or when he throws one of the bonies at the human soldiers saying “This asshole” when they ask who they should shoot. But he also got the chance to show more heart in his character through flashbacks of M’s former life, as well as while interacting with Hoult in R and M’s moments of friendship. I guess I was just surprised at how he was able to take a backseat to Hoult’s R and deliver more subtle comedy rather than trying to upstage him with his typical comedic jackassery.

As for R’s love interest, Julie, I was glad to see that neither Warm Bodies writer Isaac Marion nor director/screenwriter Jonathan Levine went the “Bella” route, if you will (I know I said not to make Twilight comparisons, but Bella is my go-to “What Not to Do with a Female Protagonist” example). I mean, sure, the premise of R and Julie’s romance is a little Stockholm Syndrome-ish since Julie is cooped up with R for a few days after he rescues her during a zombie attack, the result of which causes them to fall in love.

But Julie doesn’t spend all of her time obsessing about how beautiful R is, nor does she get off on the fact that he could kill her if he wanted to. She falls for R after she realizes how beautiful and human his mind and heart are beyond his gross exterior (Okay, this is kind of Beauty and The Beast). I will say that Julie is a much better role model than half of the female characters in these young adult supernatural romances because she doesn’t just wait around for things to happen and then cry about them when they do. She’s free-spirited, strong-willed, and a bit of a badass with a shotgun, so she often takes matters into her own hands, which occasionally gets her into some trouble. Would you expect any less of the motherless daughter of the living city’s cold-hearted, zombie-killing general though?

Speaking of which, I thought John Malkovich, who played Julie’s father, General Grigio, was extremely under-utilized in this comedy. I mean, yes, his character is supposed to be a hardened man with little emotion. But this is John Malkovich for Christ’s sake! Why couldn’t he have played his character more like his psychotic, paranoid character from Red? That type of character could’ve fit well with the post-apocalyptic zombie scenario! Perhaps this is just “meh” casting. Because, in my opinion, John Malkovich should never play a character that doesn’t get ample screen time or that can’t be a memorable John Malkovich role.

The music in this movie was great, ranging everywhere from ’80s ballads and rock to contemporary indie. I’m talking Feist, Bob Dylan, Guns ‘N Roses, Bon Iver, and Bruce Springsteen (I’m buying this now). It almost made me long for John Hughes. In fact, if John Hughes were still alive and was into zombies, I feel like this movie could’ve been his thing. Oh, and did I mention the really funny music montage of R getting a makeover from Julie and her friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton), when they’re trying to pass him off as a human in the living city? Classic ’80s bit.

I will say that the CGI was somewhat cheesy at times, making me wonder just how much of a budget this film had (especially taking into account its large, fairly detailed set). The bonies had the worst, most noticeable CGI problems, even more so when they got close to the actual actors. But I don’t think the CGI was any less worse than the mummies in The Mummy (You know, the movie where Brendan Fraser was still hot), so I guess that’s saying something.

Now, for you Shakespeare nerds, you’ll love this movie because the entire story is a Romeo & Juliet tribute, minus the tragedy because everyone lives. Well, except Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), who dies AND has his cool watch stolen. You think I’m kidding? We’ve got R and Julie, which sound oddly close to Romeo and Juliet. R kills Perry, just like Romeo kills Paris, Juliet’s suitor. Then you have R’s best friend M, who makes a “bitches” comment in a similar manner of Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” soliloquy. Oh, and there’s Julie’s father, who hates R and wants him dead, like good ole’ Capulet. And also there’s Nora, Julie’s friend and wannabe nurse, who reminds us a little of Juliet’s confidante and caretaker, The Nurse. And, of course, there’s a balcony scene between R and Julie. I mean, you can’t make this shit up.

Overall, Warm Bodies feels reminiscent of some of our favorite rom-coms from the ’80s, what with its awkward protagonist, great soundtrack, and montages. Like its unique predecessors Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, it’s a very refreshing concept in an oversaturated market of groaning, stumbling flesh-eaters. Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, who play the star-crossed zombie and human, definitely make this Romeo & Juliet tribute worth watching with their great chemistry and hilarious encounters. But don’t worry, zombie lovers! It’s not just romance and comedy. There’s still plenty of brain devouring, flesh-tearing, and creepy skeletons to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day movie to see that will mutually please you and your date with romance, comedy, and violence, then Warm Bodies should be your first choice. Don’t underestimate this movie just because it looks weird, stupid, or even vaguely Twilight-esque (It’s not). If anything, this movie has the “heart” that keeps you smiling after you leave.

Warm Bodies: A-

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