It's only human for you to write off WARM BODIES as TWILIGHT with zombies. The sparkly vampire emo saga has poisoned the well for any story containing a supernatural, paranormal or undead creature to also implement elements of love without being met with a heavy degree of skepticism. But if you continue holding onto this false equivalency between WARM BODIES and TWILIGHT, eventually you're going to have to do something else that's quite human - admit you're wrong - because Jonathan Levine's adaptation of the popular Isaac Marion novel couldn't be further from Stephenie Meyer's allegory for unhealthy co-dependent relationships. WARM BODIES is a sweet romantic comedy that happens to use zombies for one-half of the love equation, while also adhering to the zombie film tradition of making a social commentary on where we are in this current time period. It's hopeful. It's heartfelt, and it brings plenty to the table for everyone to enjoy. This isn't the kind of film that you'll feel dragged to, because your girlfriend is making you go... and it's certainly not the type of movie that girlfriends will be turned off by, if they're not exactly the biggest fans of zombies... oh, and to make sure all ground is covered, if you're single, you'll find entertainment on both sides of those spectrums, without feeling disdain for the couples. It's really difficult to put a movie like this into one particular category or check just one box next to it, as it's rich with material to see it 10 different ways in 10 different viewings. There's something for everyone here, making it a good flick, no matter how you slice it.
Nicholas Hoult plays R, or at least that's what he calls himself, since he can't quite remember what his full name was back when he was among the living... he know it started with R though. R walks the earth, shuffling around in his undead form, groaning and grumbling, occasionally bumping into others, and maybe getting something to eat in the form of human flesh. Hoult isn't done up to look too grotesque, suffering mostly from what looks like a lack of sunlight, but he's able to create this believable zombie character using modest facial expressions and awkward movements that jive with what we've come to know and accept about zombies. However, with non-verbal communication unavailable to really tell this story from the zombie's perspective, Levine employs a highly intelligent voiceover to let us in on R's thoughts, feelings and emotions. Right from the start, watching zombies wandering around a vacant airport, we get a decent understanding of R via his inner monologue - What is he doing with his life/afterlife? Is there more than the repetitiveness that makes up his typical day?
While out looking for food one night with a pack of fellow zombies, R happens to come upon Julie, played by the lovely Teresa Palmer (Notice the Romeo and Juliet reference, too, by the way). It's love at first sight for R, who may be dead inside but still has the capacity to recognize a beautiful woman when he sees her. I guess not even being a zombie can stop that kind of attraction. Upon killing her boyfriend (Dave Franco) and eating his brains, which gives him the ability to ingest his memories as well (that's one of the changes to the overall zombie rules), he's able to get a better sense of the amazing girl she is, while also bringing him about as close to feeling human again as anything else. R opts to protect her and keep her safe from the rest of the zombie threat... and the slow courting period is on.
I realize explaining it to you like that may sound a bit ridiculous, but it's a credit to Levine, Hoult and Palmer that they can make this premise work. WARM BODIES is still very much about a guy and a girl getting together, overcoming a sense of forbidden love in order to realize their feelings, working through some of the awkwardness and uncomfortable moments that are inherent in the beginning of these relationships... only in this case, R also happens to be a zombie. On paper, I can see where you'd check out of such a concept... but when it's actually executed on film, their interaction works. Levine has a killer soundtrack at his disposal, using everything from Guns N' Roses to Springsteen to Dylan to John Waite to express what R is feeling, with song serving as his language to communicate with Julie. It's helpful not only in putting words in his mouth, so to speak, but, for me, who has a history with the songs chosen, it made R all the more relateable. I knew exactly what he was dealing with in trying to connect with this special girl who made him feel human again and started making him change for the better.
WARM BODIES offers up a pretty solid look at our lack of human connection these days, and speaks loud and clear about what Twitter and Facebook and this speedy technnology we have at our fingertips is doing to us, devaluing personal communication with others in favor of texts and tweets and all of these impersonal methods that have seemingly taken their place. As with most zombie films, it is subtly presented, but to Levine's credit (and to a larger degree, Marion's), it is a sharp criticism of how we've moved into these zombie-like bubbles for ourselves, shutting out any type of real contact with the rest of the human world.
There still are a couple of problem areas for WARM BODIES though. A decent stretch of the film feels stagnant as R and Julie get to know each other. They're stuck on this plane, which serves as R's home, and it gives you a decent sense of who each character is... but there are periods where it feels like the story is just spinning its wheels, looking for where to go next, trapped in this one location before it eventually gets a push out of the mud to get things rolling again for their romance.
The Bonies are a huge issue for me, too. CGI skeleton zombies that are basically explained as the undead who have given up all hope, not that it's ever then elaborated on as to what the other zombies should be holding out hope for. But they just appear as creatures who will eat anything and, in a film that's populated largely with practical make-up, sets and effects, these entirely CGI figures don't seem to fit in this world that Levine has created. They come and go when necessary, and they're not really established as a threat well enough to make their involvement all that meaningful when they do burst onto the scene. They're really a weak way to add some type of conflict or action into the story, and, while I get their function in the overall scheme of the story, they never quite worked for me.
WARM BODIES is a nice little film that walks the fine line between romantic comedy and zombie flick well enough to make the hybrid successful on all accounts. Levine's script, adapted from the novel, is sharp and smart, particularly in R's voiceover, and the outrageousness of a human-zombie romance is quickly settled by the performances of Hoult and Palmer. I was pessimistic when I first heard the idea behind WARM BODIES, but, after giving it a look, I walked away fairly impressed, having enjoyed a sweet film about love and so much more.
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