Sunday, February 17, 2013

Warm Bodies


Being a huge zombie movie fan I was genuinely not excited when I saw that there was a zombie romantic comedy coming out this year. I am not a fan of romantic comedies in general and the combination of the two seemed like a horrible, horrible idea. What piqued my curiosity about Warm Bodies was just that; I wanted to witness firsthand how in the hell someone thought that making a zombie romantic comedy was actually a good idea. I did my best to avoid reading any reviews and kept the spoilers to a minimum so that when I did get around to seeing it I could enjoy it from a completely ignorant point of view. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

In a world overrun by zombies there are pockets of humans trying desperately to survive. R (Nicholas Hoult) is one of these zombies who roams an airport looking for food, but yearns for something more. When he eats the brains of a young scavenger he absorbs the love his victim felt for Julie (Teresa Palmer), a beautiful survivor. This love begins to change R physically and a romance begins to grow between the two.
Sure on the surface this looks like a zombie comedy, not unlike Shaun of the Dead, but when you dig a little deeper it actually is a clever retelling of Romeo & Juliet. You have two warring families (the humans and the zombies), starcrossed lovers (R and Julie… get it?!) and even a balcony scene (for real). It gives the somewhat silly story a little bit of weight that it needs to make it all work.

Yes, I did say that the main story is silly even though it’s about a zombie plague. I won’t ruin the main twist the story takes, which runs against popular zombie lore, but I will say that I wasn’t digging this movie for the first half hour or so due to it. I realize that I should be happy that someone decided to take the standard zombie movie clich├ęs and change them up a bit, but here they went a bit too far for me at the start.
- The first issue is that R, the main character, is a zombie and he has interior dialogue running over the entire film where he is well spoken and versed in current pop culture.
      - Next is that the zombies de-evolve into “Bonies”, undead who rip their skin off and become overly aggressive, going as far as to eat other zombies when live victims are hard to come by (sort of like how the vampires de-evolved in Daybreakers).
      - Third is that R and a few other zombies, most notably his best friend M (Rob Corddry), can speak. At great length. For no reason.
      - Fourth is that if a zombie eats someone's brains they inherit all of that person's memories. On top of that it seems that R is the only zombie that knows this and intentionally does it in order to gain memories and feel alive.
All of these issues bugged me like crazy from the start, but as the movie spun on I found myself growing accustomed to it and at the midpoint found that I had become totally engrossed in the bizarroland that writer/director Jonathan Levine and novelist Isaac Marion created. “To hell with the rules” I thought to myself, “this is a lot of fun”. And it sure is.
Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, X-Men: First Class, Jack the Giant Slayer), who is being primed to become the next big thing, is a fantastically gifted young actor. He has a knack for comedy which is clearly evident here. His character’s body language and facial expressions are pretty much all he has to work with for a good chunk of the movie and he excels at not only the pratfalls and physical stuff, but his character’s insanely funny voiceovers. Hearing him talk about how his character feels “conflicted” about eating someone is pretty damned hilarious, and later on in the story he has a few great moments (“SHIT!”). Once his character starts to “change” he really begins to shine.

Teresa Palmer (Take Me Home Tonight, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Grudge 2) is someone I’ve seen in plenty of movies over the years, and I have not liked her in any of them. Maybe the parts she accepts are written poorly, the director she is working with is crap or maybe she’s just getting by on her looks. I don’t know what the reasons are, but I’m not a fan. Until now. If there was one movie to show off what you can do as an actress it’s this one. She’s basically playing opposite a mute and has to do all the talking for both of them. The romance angle rests squarely on her shoulders since her character is the one that has to fall in love with a zombie, and if she couldn’t convince the audience of that the movie would never have worked. She pulls it off spectacularly and I’m now firmly in her camp. She just needs to find better projects to showcase her talents (I Am Number Four… really?!).
Sure the movie co-stars John Malkovich as Julie’s over protective father, and yes, he screams a lot. The secret weapon here is Rob Corddry as R’s best friend M (Mercutio). He seems to be having a ball playing a zombie that can only communicate (at the beginning) with grunts and moans. The conversation he has with R at the airport bar is one of the funniest awkward moments I’ve seen recently. Once he starts talking he gets all the good lines (“They said ‘fuck yeah’!) as well as one particularly heartfelt moment near the end as M looks at a certain picture in the airport. Dude’s talented.

Writer/director Jonathan Levine, who directed one of the most criminally abused films in motion picture history (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), had to walk a fine line between being overly sentimental and overly scary with the material. I think that for the most part he kept things in check and made a movie that is both oddly romantic as well as a little frightening. He coaxed awesome performances out of his actors, chose extremely appropriate songs from both the 80s and current pop charts, showed gore only when necessary and kept the story moving forward no matter what. I’ve only seen two of his film now, but I will most likely look up 50/50 and The Wackness in the future.
My only gripe is the overly CGI-ness of the Bonies. They don’t look entirely completed, as if there was never a final render of the effects shots. They appear very fake; inserted into shots and when they move they don’t really look like they are touching the ground (like the CGI monkeys in A Sound of Thunder). I’m sure the producers felt like they had more important things to spend the budget on, but when these creatures play such a prominent role in the finale you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking.

I also have an issue with what the underlying theme of the film is since it is pretty hokey, but I will not discuss it here due to it being a major spoiler. In the end I was 70% okay with it, but it still bugged me a little bit due to how syrupy it is.

Regardless, Warm Bodies is a fun and, dare I say, romantic film that everyone should see. Is it a little creepy that a girl falls in love with a zombie? Sure. But it’s done in such a funny and honest way that you can’t help but root for these two people from opposite sides of… I don’t know, life? But I digress. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and coming from someone who absolutely hates romantic comedies the unique spin on the material this film employs was enough to win me over. Just don’t ask me to watch You’ve Got Mail. I will shank the first person that does.

4 out of 5

3 comments:

  1. I have to agree with you! This movie was very good. It made me go out and buy the book and read it. They managed to capture the metaphor and essence of the material perfectly albeit missing a few things here and there but still managed it.

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    1. I'd like to mention that your points are all found in the book. R's internal dialogue is like that in the book. He even comments on that in the book. Stating that in his mind he can form full conversations but when he tries to speak that all falls apart. And all the zombies can eat the brains and get the memories. It was just worded differently in the movie.

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    2. I know I made it sound like I had a massive problem with the internal dialogue, and I did at the start of the film. As the movie spun on it really grew on me and I ended up finding it a nice touch. Your comments have made me consider getting a copy of the novel.

      Thanks for reading!
      Chris

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