I’ve underestimated filmmaker Jonathan Levine. When he first debuted with The Wackness, he had proven to have a great eye for detail in his mid-90’s settings but nothing else more.
I’ll eat my fair share of crow because with 50/50 and now with his zom-com Warm Bodies, he has a resumé that gives plenty of evidence that he realizes how to recognize humanity and what makes us tick. It’s a skill that makes his characters more than just “characters”.
He challenges himself with Warm Bodies; what better way to represent simplistic human instincts than with a lead character who is part of the walking dead after an apocalypse.
Nicholas Hoult plays the zombie lead, R. He goes on a first letter basis due to him having very little memory of what his name was before the apocalypse. In fact, a lot of information about this mass wipeout is nonchalantly untouched. R explains – in narration – that he may not remember what happened, but it doesn’t matter to his story because the disaster is in the past. Worrying about it is useless because “what’s done is done”.
It may sound like a screenwriter’s cop out, but it isn’t. It helps us realize just how aware R is to his surroundings and how dull and unenthused his existence has become. We get insight through more narration – which, again, could be a screenwriter’s cop out in an amateur’s hands – but, Levine is very crafty, giving Hoult a proper voice.
R is charismatic for a zombie and has dialogue that highlights the obvious but in a way that’s funny and observant in a natural frame of mind. At times, he almost sounds like an undead, less neurotic Charlie Kaufman from Spike Jonze’s Adaptation.
Hoult isn’t the only likeable zombie in the film. Funnyman Rob Corddry plays R’s best friend. They often groan abut nothing back-and-forth. But, those conversations play a big part in R’s life where he longs for interaction with others. He isn’t interested in wandering alone and aimlessly around an abandoned airport.
Corddry is very effective as a walking corpse. His dead eyes and long stares and sighs are spot-on and his performance is most definitely a scene stealer.
A turning point in R’s life happens when an attack occurs pairing himself with an attractive human woman, Julie played by Teresa Palmer, to whom he develops feelings for. Feelings and sensations that will stabilize that connection and romantic interest he’s been missing.
Warm Bodies has a premise that could be very gimmicky. Instead of giving into the obvious corpse/human-out-of-water jokes, Levine wishes to keep it simple and allow these two leads to develop a liking to one another. The outcome works wonderfully. It’s cute, but never cheesy.
Now, a few reviews ago, I scolded Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters for having a wild premise and not doing anything with it. There’s a big difference between doing nothing and keeping it simple. Why Warm Bodies works as well as it does is because these small moments of relatable feelings and actions provide that seamless bond between the fantastical and reality, thus, doing something new.
As R spends more time with Julie, that transition becomes more established and allows both Hoult and Palmer to resonate in new areas as the film progresses. There may be one too many moments of R and Julie listening to music and playing with R’s “collectables”, but these montages count for something.
There’s also a well-acted role by John Malkovich, who plays Julie’s bitter Father. It’s unsure if Malkovich is quietly having fun with this anti-zombie role or if he’s proving that he could play a character like this in his sleep. Either way, his presence is fun to watch.
I know it’s early to be claiming movies to be “one of the best I’ll see this year”, but I wouldn’t feel like I was jumping the gun with Warm Bodies. Maybe because I was looking for originality like this during most of last year’s fiscal attempts.
For now, I’ll comfortably call the movie the best thing playing in mainstream theatres at the moment and, yes, a fantastic flick in time for Valentine’s Day.