Movies don’t always have to be profound to work. Sometimes you just want to be entertained–amused, diverting, charmed. Warm Bodies is about the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater for awhile. It’s the first zombie romantic comedy, and it’s terrific. A zom romcom. And it’s funny and really genuinely romantic, and my wife and I completely loved it. Great date night movie.
Premise: we’re in a future dystopia. Something–a virus, a contaminant, a bug–has turned most of humanity into zombies. Non-infected humans are badly outnumbered, reduced to a single walled city. Most zombies sort of shamble about. Some have given up even on that, consumed their own flesh, turned themselves into animated skeletons, called ‘bonies’ by the other zombies. The zombies are dead, but some of them can remember a little bit of what remains of their humanity. A bunch of them live at the airport; the former airport security guy still scans people with his wand, though he’s long ago forgotten why, the former janitor still mops away, though with no notion of buckets or cleaning supplies. But they’re not lost innocents either. They are zombies–they eat human flesh, and particular enjoy eating brains, in part for the taste, and also because they get to experience the memories of the people they’ve killed.
R (Nicholas Hoult) is one of those zombies. He vaguely remembers that his first name started with an R, and he misses being alive. He has a friend, M (Rob Corddry); sometimes they grunt back and forth in what might pass for a conversation. He lives in a grounded airliner, with his record player and really awesome collection of classic records on vinyl. (The music in the film is terrific.) And he and M hunt together.
Humans sometimes have to venture out from behind their wall, for medical supplies and food. The younger, fitter humans are sent out, in heavily armed patrols. Julie (Teresa Palmer) is the daughter of the human commander-in-chief, played by John Malkovich. She also recently broke up with Perry (Dave Franco); her ex-boyfriend now commands her patrol. So they’re beyond the wall, in a hospital pharmacy, picking up drugs, when R and M and their fellow zombies attack. And R is just in the process of eating Perry, when he sees Julie. And that combination–the taste of Perry’s brain, and memories of how much Perry loved Julie, plus the intoxicating sight of this cute blonde blasting away at zombies with a shotgun–combine to render R completely smitten. And so he rescues her. Wipes blood on her face to mask her human scent, and takes her home.
And for days, R keeps Julie with him in the airplane, ostensibly under his protection. And with each day that passes, R falls further in love. And his heart starts beating.
R keeps telling her that she can’t leave, that “it’s not safe.” Frankly, he doesn’t have enough brain power to do something like ‘make a plan.’ We sense that he’d happily stay with her together in the airplane, listening to music and, you know, hanging out, basically forever. But she’s desperate to return to civilization, and eventually she escapes. He follows, finds her, faces down the crowd of zombies about to eat her, and . . . holds her hand. And that does it. The zombies see it, this pretty girl and R, together, and . . . something happens. All their hearts start beating.
So she finally gets away, goes back to human civilization, back to her Dad and her best friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton). And she tells Nora everything, how she can’t stop thinking about this guy she met, and Nora teases her about her ‘zombie boyfriend.’ Who then shows up. Under her balcony.
The zombies are not only changing, but they recognize it; they can feel that everything’s different. M, who starts to develop the ability to form, like, sentences, begins to emerge as their most verbally adept zombie-in-chief. Corddry’s incredibly funny in this movie–gets all the best lines, and makes the most of them. And they encourage R to find the girl and . . . do something. They’re zombies, they don’t really have what you’d call ‘ideas.’
Okay, major SPOILER ALERT. Skip this paragraph if you’d rather figure things out yourself. It took my wife and I about two thirds of the movie to get this, but when we did it made the movie all the more fun. Put it together. R. And Julie. On a balcony. And M (by far the funnest character, with the best lines.) Warring factions. And Perry as R’s romantic rival. And Nora’s a nurse. They don’t push it too far, it was just a fun element. END SPOILER ALERT.
So anyway, with the help of some judiciously applied makeup, R is able to pass for a human for awhile, as Julie tries to persuade her deeply skeptical Dad that the zombies are actually changing, that the bonies are really the only threat. And in the end, love really does conquer all. I mean, really, literally.
A movie like this only works if the director and screenwriter capture the right tone for it, a perfect mix of lightness and seriousness. Jonathan Levine nails it. He’s a young director (his IMDB photo makes him look about 20), but his last film, 50/50, a comedy about cancer, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan, was also terrific. He also wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Isaac Marion (which I have not read.) R spends a lot of the film in voice-over commentary on its action; best use of voice-over I’ve seen in years.
I don’t know anything about Nicholas Hoult, but he’s fabulous, especially the physicality of his performance, his perfect shambling zombie walk and stance. And his comic timing is great. This seems to be his year–he’s also playing Jack, The Giant Slayer, coming out this summer. I also don’t know anything about Teresa Palmer, but she’s great too. Another Aussie–I don’t know what it is about Australia, but they must have some kind of amazing system for training actors, especially on how to do a spot-on American accent.
Anyway, go see Warm Bodies. It’s February, and the weather’s always wretched. It’s dark and cold and depressing out. You owe it to yourself to see something really fun. This is.