Director Jonathan Levine's "Warm Bodies" is easily the best zombie romantic comedy I've ever seen. (Is zom-com a thing yet?) Despite a hackneyed premise and questionable zombie mythology, "Warm Bodies" manages to be both familiar and refreshing. What could have been 'Twilight with Zombies' is instead a fun, earnest and self-aware film about young people dying to connect.
Based on Isaac Marion's debut novel of the same name, "Warm Bodies" tells the story of R (Nicholas Hoult), a sympathetic zombie who spends his days shuffling around an airport in post-apocalyptic America. Unable to do much more than wander, grunt and keep up a self-deprecating inner monologue, R daydreams about the halcyon days before the apocalypse. "Why can't I connect with people?" his voiceover intones at the beginning of the film. But you don't have to be a zombie to relate. As the director reminds us through a quirky fantasy sequence, us non-zombies also have difficulty connecting. (A pre-zombie airport may not be full of corpses, but even the children have their noses glued to electronic devices.)
If it weren't for his propensity to eat brains, R would more closely resemble the average teenage boy than the average zombie. In fact, genre purists might be a bit disappointed by the film's lack of gore. Apart from a few key brain-eating scenes, R remains completely in control of his zombie nature, which is lucky for his human love interest, Julie (Teresa Palmer).
One of the few remaining humans left uninfected, Julie, her boyfriend, and some friends come across R and his zombie cohorts while out scavenging for medical supplies. For R, it's love at first sight – the sight of Julie desperately trying to shoot his head off. But R doesn't let her revulsion or his hunger for human flesh detract from his love. He disguises Julie with some blood and brains and brings her back to his abandoned airplane abode (against her will). What follows is an awkward yet adorable courtship that involves vinyl records, a convertible car and a Polaroid camera.
As Julie becomes more accepting of R and his love for her, R becomes more human, and before you know it, Julie and R are bona fide star-crossed lovers.
"You rescued me, like, a bunch," Julie eloquently explains to R one night. And that, it seems, is enough of a reason for Julie to overlook the fact that, earlier in the film, R ate her dead boyfriend's brain.
While the plot details are a bit sticky, the actors make up for it with charismatic performances and actual chemistry. Hoult (the boy in 2002's "About a Boy" and the man-boy in E4's television series "Skins") manages to make his undead character charming, quirky and utterly relatable. And Palmer ("I Am Number Four") is so lovely as Julie that you can almost believe a zombie would give up brains for her. Almost. Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton are hilarious as R's friend Marcus and Julie's friend Nora, respectively, who ultimately help unite the humans and zombies to fight off the skeleton-like Bonies who seem to be preying on both.
The film's biggest flaw is a bit of heavy-handed messaging. Though R can't remember his full name (what's in a name, anyway?), the obvious allusions to Shakespeare's famous play leave no doubt that R is for Romeo. There's even a balcony scene thrown in for good measure, although it doesn't quite live up to Shakespeare's poetry. (R and Julie's balcony reunion is interrupted by Nora, with a wave and a simple "'Sup?") And though the idea that R and Julie can save the world with their love is more than a little contrived, I found myself charmed nonetheless.
Though imperfect, "Warm Bodies" may be the best zom-com ever made. With a $20 million opening weekend under its belt, this offbeat film's success at the box office will likely ensure that it won't be the last.