Isaac Marion’s zombie romance novel comes alive thanks to Summit Entertainment’s adaptation, “Warm Bodies”. Jonathan Levine does a brilliant job of adapting a novel told mostly through internal dialogue into a film that is visually engaging , humorous and heartwarming, balancing the macabre of the zombie genre with romantic tropes for a delightfully fun film.
The cast features a number of rising stars who pull off their roles in a deft and surprisingly convincing way. R is brought to life by Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class), who has come a long way from the chubby child star of About a Boy. Hoult’s delivery of R’s inner monologue is somewhat stiff, but his facial expressions are incredibly emotive—as they must be, since zombies have trouble stringing sentences together. Teresa Palmer (I am Number Four) is lovely as Julie, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love) adds a layer of humor as Julie’s best friend Nora. The weakest member of the young human cast is Dave Franco, James Franco’s younger brother, who plays Julie’s late boyfriend Perry. As far as older actors go, Rob Corddry is hilarious and almost heartbreaking as M, R’s best friend. The film also features John Malkovich, whose role as Julie’s father is thankfully understated (because John Malkovich is the same in every role he performs).
Visually, Warm Bodies is surprisingly artistic, with plenty of wide-angle shots to emphasize the desolation of the post-disaster world and the emotional distance between characters. Some shots, particularly the introductory scenes in the humans’ walled-in city, are done with a shaky handheld camera for no discernible reason. The camera work in the rest of the film is remarkably good for a film of this type. The makeup for the zombies is different from any other zombie movie I have ever seen, evoking the idea of corpses but still teetering on the edge of humanity. At times the zombie makeup looks somewhat unconvincing, but this was most likely intentional, particularly as the zombies start to transition back to becoming humans.
The comedic timing is one of the movie’s greatest strengths. There are few moments in which the romantic tension or angst is not broken by humor, whether that humor comes from the clever screenwriting or an expression from the characters. Warm Bodies is aware that its premise is borderline ridiculous, so the humor keeps the film from becoming overly cheesy (not that it isn’t fairly cheesy to being with). Its comedic aspect so overshadows the romantic elements that it’s easy to forget the movie is supposed to be a romance. One of the movie’s biggest laughs comes after R, who has just lost Julie, tells his best friend M that he is “not okay”—one of the first times R has expressed any sort of actual feeling in the movie. After a zombie hug (which was still not as awkward as the Voldemort hug in the last Harry Potter movie) and an awkward pause, M pops out with, “Bitches, man.”
The soundtrack serves a similar purpose, keeping the film grounded in humor without apologizing for its subject matter. In addition to an original soundtrack, the film includes musical choices like the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Patience” from Guns N’ Roses. R and Julie’s montage is musically accompanied by Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” which is hilariously appropriate for the scene.
There are some obvious holes in the logic of the movie. For one thing, R and Julie plummet off a 20-story building into a body of water, which should have killed Julie and flattened the zombie according to the laws of physics. Still, you’re watching a zombie romance; the suspension of disbelief is expected. The resolution is somewhat problematic, but I would argue that it wraps up better than the book does. Unlike the novel, the resolution of the movie does not depend entirely upon R and Julie but expands to the reconciliation of the zombie and human communities.
I have heard many people write off “Warm Bodies” simply because of its subject matter. For some (very understandable) reason, people are turned off by the idea of a zombie romance. To those people, I say: give the movie a chance. It is incredibly cheesy at times, but its humor and heart more than make up for it, making “Warm Bodies” one of the biggest crowd-pleasers to appear in film this year.