Warm Bodies is one of those movies that you neither love nor hate. It’s like that moment at the end of each Project Runway episode, where the designers that weren’t the best or worst are safe and are told to leave. I can hear the loud sigh as director Jonathan Levine, watched the final cut of his most recent film. He must be relieved he was able to pull it off safely and unscathed. To top it all off, Warm Bodies opened at number one at the box office this past weekend, pulling in about $20 million. I think Levine and distributor Summit Entertainment would call that a success for a pseudo-indie zombie flick.
The marketing for the film was spot on and very appropriate for Valentine’s Day, which is just one week away. I imagine some awkward, yet attractive sixteen-year-old boy (not unlike Nicholas Hoult, who plays zombie-protagonist R) in the suburbs who wants to take his girlfriend on a date to see it. It’s not your usual rom-com and it isn’t a “chick flick” either; the boy would score points with the girl for his “unique” taste and sensibility. He’d have his mom drop them off in her minivan and he’d buy her popcorn. She wouldn’t know much about the film and would be surprised by how much “heart” it had. Bon Iver‘s voice would soothe both her heart and the hearts of the zombies (or “corpses” which is what the characters refer to the undead as). Feist‘s voice would pick up the pieces and keep the plot moving forward, keeping everyone’s heart beating through the post-apocalyptic world, but keeping the solemn, lovelorn tone intact.
I expected more from the music in the film. There is no official soundtrack, but the film does showcase many indie-gone-mainstream artists. Bon Iver, Feist, M83 and The National to just name a few. It also showcases artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, musicians that Bon Iver and Feist would probably name as inspiration for making music. The soundtrack is a bit disappointing because Alexandra Patsavas, the beloved music supervisor for films like the Twilight series (which all have an oddly amazing indie soundtrack!) and television shows like Gossip Girl, The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy didn’t deliver. She’s usually known for showcasing smaller artists who are up and coming. She brings these incredible songs to the masses. For Warm Bodies it seemed she got lazy and referred to indie-gone-mainstream staples like Bon Iver, who won two Grammys last year for “Best New Artist” and “Best Alternative Music Album.” Perhaps, she had a bigger budget to work with and didn’t have to search for new artists? What a missed opportunity. For a complete tracklisting of the music in the film, Indiewire posted it here.
Warm Bodies is based on a novel written by Isaac Marion, which received generally positive reviews; a zombie romance that incorporates a bit of social commentary. Insert “zombie” to represent any minority you wish, in the same vein as Alan Ball uses “vampire” on True Blood. John Malkovich is superb as the militant-racist leader of the new world, who happens to be the father of Julie (played by Teresa Palmer), the girl who zombie-protagonist R, falls in love with. We can now insert allusions to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Montague vs. Capulet. I can’t believe her name is Julie! Can Levine (or Isaac Marion) be anymore didactic? Give your audience some credit.
The film is simple in plot and execution. The voiceover narration by R is mildly entertaining. He’s an outcast amongst his zombie counterparts. He doesn’t remember his own life, not even his own name, but still manages to hold on to some of his humanity. He can’t help eating human brains to keep nourished. By devouring the minds of his victims he is flooded with human memories; memories of the person he’s eating. By killing, he sustains what little bit of humanity he has left. He wins the heart of Julie, by eating the brain of her boyfriend Perry, played by Dave Franco (who is killed off much too early in the film). With each bite into Perry’s brain–the frontal lobe, the cerebellum, he gets to know Julie, through flashbacks from Perry’s perspective.
Eventually, it’s love that spreads through the zombie race. The corpses begin remembering their human ways and the love they used to feel. R and Julie inspire this infection of love. Amongst the zombies, there are “bonies,” zombies who have lost all of their humanity, stripped of all their flesh. If zombies are a misunderstood “race” or minority, I’m still trying to figure out what the bonies are. The Osama bin Ladens and Hitlers of the world? They are so forgone, their humanity amounts to death and destruction?
Ultimately, it is war that bonds the humans and corpses. The bonies catch wind that “love” has infected the zombie race and quickly amass a raid on the zombies and humans before this rebellion of love could take over the world and they are an extinct species. Julie and R lead this battle, trying to convince humankind that zombies just need a little bit of love to change their undead ways. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.
Warm Bodies spoofs the zombie genre to create an alt-romantic-comedy. It succeeds in its mission but the humor isn’t always there. Julie even has a line in the film where she calls R a “chesseball.” I almost gagged on such an off-putting line. Who says cheeseball? Perhaps a chesseball film that coasts on the surface of things? 2009′s Zombieland which starred Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone did it much better, which has a sequel in the works. I would suggest to that sixteen-year-old boy to wait for that or rent Zombieland and invite his girlfriend over instead.
I like Jonathan Levine. I loved The Wackness. I liked 50/50. But I think he found a safe middle ground here, where he can be just like that sixteen-year-old boy who is out on a date with his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Warm Bodies is slightly discursive and unconventional (in the way that Zombieland was), yet treads on cliché and familiarity within the genre just enough to make decent money at the box office.
To be quite honest, I had more fun watching the ridiculously over-the-top trailer for Tyler Perry’s new movie Temptation. The trailer prominently features Kim Kardashian, who mouths words with a deer-in-headlights blank stare. Who wouldn’t want to see that? That movie looks like pure gold.
(2.5 out of 5 stars)