It’s worth pointing out right now that I’ve liked all of Jonathan Levines movies (that I’ve seen). In particular he directed a movie in 2011 called 50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen that went on to be one of my favourites of that year.
What I loved about that film was the relationship between the two main characters while Gordon-Levitts character dealt with cancer. How they interacted with and acted around each other felt very real and honest. Similarly in his previous film —The Wackness, a coming of age story set in 90s New York– the main character goes though everything you’d expect in a film like that but he manages to keep the whole thing feeling very grounded and real.
It’s fitting then how everything I loved about those two movies holds true in Warm Bodies, a film about a relationship between a girl and a zombie. Each of these films deals with relationships in awkward or extreme circumstances, after all.
Nicholas Hoult is “R”, a zombie literally shambling through life (or more specifically death) wishing that there was something more to do or be. Teresa Palmer is Julie, the daughter of the colonel who runs the city of survivors.
R and his best friend M, played by Rob Corddry, live at the airport. They shuffle around basically reenactign what little of human life they remember. Unlike most zombie stories they have basic motor skills and even the ability to somewhat communicate. R collects things when he’s out and about in the city and M signals to a barkeep that’s not there when he gets up from the stool he’s sitting on only to realize he doesn’t have to do that anymore. Both seem to realize that they’ve lost something in death and R wishes he still had the wherewithal to find it.
It’s one of their more wordy conversations that send them to the city where they cross paths with Julie and her group of volunteers out scrounging for supplies. In the melee the zombies kill everyone except Julie who R immediately falls in love with and saves and takes to the airplane he’s made his home in in order to keep her safe.
Throughout the second act we see Julie go from being scared to trying to figure out exactly what’s going on here and eventually developing a strong bond with R and slowly but surely restarting his heart and setting him on the path back to humanity before heading back to the city for the films third act where everything of course comes to a head.
Both Hoult and Corddry are great. It takes some skill to convey feeling in screen, it takes even more to convey wanting to feel but not understanding how to do it or communicate it. Hoult shines in every scene he’s in with Julie in this regard, whether R the zombie struggling to make her feel comfortable or struggling just to tell her that he doesn’t want to hurt her.
Corddry supplies most of the laugh out loud moments in the film but not in the way you’d normally expect from him. Normally known for being bombastic and over the top he plays his part reservedly, by necessity, and he carries it off well. Comedians often turn out to be great dramatic actors and Corddry is certainly on his way to greater things that just being the funny sidekick. Palmer as well is in good form, in fact maybe the best I’ve seen her so far. Dave Franco has a supporting role as Julie’s boyfriend and while he’s not perfect you can see why he’s starting to gain traction like his brother James.
John Malkovich is Julie’s father the colonel. While he doesn’t get much screen time or development really he does well with what he’s given and he’s always nice to see on screen.
There’s a lot to like here. From the innocence of the relationship to the unconventional way the film deals with zombies. It’s not as funny as you’d expect but there are plenty of laughs to be had merely because of the circumstance.
Again, as strange as it is to say it, the film works because of the honest way the characters deal with the situations they are in. Sure, this story’s star crossed lovers are separated by life and death but it still manages to feel real for lack of a better word. There’s plenty of opportunities where it could have gone slapstick and over the top but it never does.
It’s Romeo and Juliet but Romeo is a zombie and you should definitely check it out.