Directed by Jonathan Levine
One of popular entertainment's most prodigious fallacies — "love conquers all" — sucks the life right out of what is otherwise an affably charming and occasionally thoughtful take on the cultural zeitgeist's favourite monster du jour.
With the public's rapid appetite for all things undead, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to try to make a sexy zombie rom-com for young adults. 50/50 director Jonathan Levine's adaptation of Isaac Marion's novel is a frustrating affair, showing brief moments of promising introspection only to squander its potential and a consistently impressive performance by Nicolas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) on trite nostalgia and cloying sentimentality.
In the plus column, Warm Bodies is largely told from the rarely explored vantage point of a zombie struggling to hold onto his humanity. When we first meet our brain-craving protagonist (referred to as R, since that's all he can remember of his name), his narration reveals the inner workings of the undead mind. The moderately witty scripting mirrors the body complaints and social awkwardness — shuffling, unthinking masses grunting and impolitely bumping into each other — of post-life humans with how bustling, insecure, work-distracted drones with a pulse act every day.
In order to humanize the zombie population and provide more menacing antagonists, there's a vicious and macabre outcome for those who give up hope. After a zombie resorts to eating its own flesh, it becomes a "bony": a feral skeleton with a taste for anything with a heartbeat.
Since it's a stretch to expect a piece of mass market storytelling to stick with a perspective that continually wags the finger at our inevitable mortality, the other half of the story is concerned with a group of human survivors, which is conveniently comprised primarily of generically attractive youngsters.
When a mission outside of the safe zone goes awry, the resistance leader's daughter, Julie (Teresa Palmer), ends up being saved by R when he breaks from pack mentality after first eating her boyfriend's brains. You see, chowing down on a person's gray matter gives the consumer their memories and emotions, and despite being a prick, Perry (Dave Franco) really loved Julie, so R loves Julie.
Why every zombie doesn't have this sort of epiphany is attributed to R being "special." The eventual blossoming affection between R and Julie, when she realizes he's not like other guys, oops, I mean zombies, essentially turns the tale into Zombio and Juliet, only with more hipster B.S. about even a dead person being able to tell that vinyl is "warmer" than digital audio and on-the-nose song choices like Springsteen's "Hungry Heart."
And you can bet your britches that there are no attempts to sexualize undead females (what, the kids aren't fond of rotting breasts?). Not only is R initially less decayed than most of his drooling brethren, but his looks actually improve as the love borrowed by regular mastication of leftover bits of Perry's cerebellum slowly begin to reanimate his body.
However, audiences seeking refuge from reality and discerning thought, in the form of a light-hearted fairy-tale that reinforces comforting cultural delusions, will likely love having their brain cells consumed by Warm Bodies.
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