Movie Review: Warm Bodies- A Charming Attempt at Blending Genres but Ultimately Succumbs to its Predictable Romantic Comedy Wounds

warmbodiesThe indie filmmaking scene is definitely a place for people to experiment with genres and attempt unconventional blending, manipulation, and perhaps even some Frankenstein piecing together of varying parts. This admirable experimentation is commendable even if the final product ultimately doesn’t have a credible entertaining outcome or fails to live up to the more complex nature of its original adaptive material. This is the case of Jonathan Levine’s new film Warm Bodies, which is basically a Zombie movie that has been bitten and infected by the crippling walking dead disease known as the Romantic Comedy. Sure enough the original debut book by Isaac Marion is described as a “zombie romance” but Levine’s unfortunate superficial handling of the material creates a Zombie Romance Comedy that doesn’t seem thought out, lacks complexity of character, and thrives on awkward humor instead of cleverness.  There is much to be admired about the uniqueness of the movie Warm Bodies because of the open ended exploration on the Zombie perspective, but it’s crippled by predictability, shallow writing, and questionable creative choices. Attempting to show zombies as having a misunderstood state of mind practically makes Warm Bodies the unfortunate embodiment of a hipster zombie film. Warm Bodies with its attempt to make the state of the zombie into a subjective, ambiguous definition is basically the antithesis of the AMC television show “The Walking Dead.” It’s unfortunate that Isaac Marion’s book wasn’t treated with a revered dignity, especially by Jonathan Levine who was able to tackle layered characters in his last film 50/50. Instead most of the characters in the film fit a particular and expected mold making them no better than walking corpses and basically ignoring the negative struggles of possibly changing back from zombie to human. While mixing genres can be an incredibly inventive endeavor, Warm Bodies just seems a little too forced and the material seems incredibly misunderstood for it to be anything more than an admirable and messy gimmick.

Adapting any source of material is always going to be difficult but Isaac Marion’s book is one that presents unique challenges, especially for typical movie going audiences. Warm Bodies follows a zombie named “R” (Nicholas Hoult) who possesses the ability to think still but finds that he begins changing mentally and physically after encountering a human teenager named Julie (Teresa Palmer). Together they form an unlikely bond that while not completely believable through the progression of events in the movie ultimately begins countering the zombie infection. A zombie isn’t necessarily a reliable or even completely sympathetic protagonist but luckily the movie at least follows in the footsteps of the book by making him uniquely charming through his inner monologue. However, that’s all that Warm Bodies possesses in warmth and that is just plain old charm. There is nothing ultimately clever about how they showcase the thoughts of a zombie or the potential humor involved so in the end it’s just an oddly plain yet somewhat charming film. Unfortunately the darkness of the novel has been purely stripped out of this typical Hollywoodized adaptation in order to keep the bland charm without any risk, danger, or conflict within any of the characters. It’s not as if any of the events in the book are completely ignored (except for some, such as death of Grigio) but the original tone is absent and they are cleaned up for a more teenage friendly Twilight desensitized audience. As Shaun of the Dead showed us a couple of years ago a Zombie comedy has the capability of adding in a touch of drama or a bit of character struggle. Once “R” meets Julie he never has the urge to kill or harm another human being which eliminates all uncertainty from his zombie state that the book explores so well. Basically Jonathan Levine’s script was weighted down by Romantic Comedy conventionality making it an awkwardly amusing Zombie Romance but nothing more, which is far less than what Isaac Marion’s book deserved.

WARM BODIES

Jonathan Levine is not exactly a fully-fledged experienced director but his last film 50/50 that focused on the personal struggle of cancer and its impact on family and friends suggested that he could definitely tell raw, emotional, and intriguing stories. Unfortunately Warm Bodies didn’t continue that creative spark but instead he reverted back to his lackluster debut feature The Wackness. Both Warm Bodies and The Wackness have numerous elements in common besides beginning with a “W” in the title, including isolated protagonists, predictable script structures, and ultimately not utilizing high end talent to its full potential. Choosing to dilute the darker tones from the novel for a more solidly comedic film put incredible limitations on Levine in conducting scenes that could have had additional layers of complexity, either in character or plot development. However, some of that solid comedic delivery survives and gets slightly better much like “R” becomes less of a zombie and more of a human. Most of the humor is dependent on awkward situations and sets up some chuckle worthy observations without devolving into necrophilia jokes. Despite the disappointing choice of making Warm Bodies more similar to Twilight it does have more going for it than its poppy tween counterpart. For starters the look and visual consistency of Warm Bodies is definitely appropriate and fits well with its chosen (but inferior) fully comedic tone. Also the actors, while limited by the script’s safe choices and lack of character layers, give more than acceptable performances in their tightly molded archetypes. Levine may not have expanded or evolved here as an up and coming director but he also couldn’t be labeled as incompetent like most of Hollywood’s chosen ilk.

It’s obvious that the half of the cast portraying zombies in the film had a fun time doing so especially since it’s incredibly different from previous zombie films. Basically we’re witnessing the reverse change from zombie to human in a core group of the actors and while a good part of the opportunity is wasted on creative choices it’s an interesting process for actor Nicholas Hoult. Luckily for us Hoult refuses to be a Robert Pattinson and does give us an interesting performance as a thinking zombie with doubts, a hint of feeling, and killing remorse. While most of the expressed performance comes from his inner monologue it does happen to be complimentary to his action and the tone of his voice always seems appropriate. While his romantic counterpart Teresa Palmer isn’t exactly on the Shakespearean level of acting talent she is still definitely better to look at then the quivering wooden lip of Kristen Stewart. The movie’s charm and humor is mostly on the shoulders of Rob Corddry who plays “M,” another zombie that has a bit more life in him. Even though John Malkovich’s name is on first billing of the credits he seems to be wasted even more so than Ben Kingsley was wasted in Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness. Overall the cast is fine but it’s the limited roles and lack of dynamism of the characters that prevents them from exploring anything beyond their complacent Romantic Comedy role molds.

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Sometimes it is just incredibly unwise to mix two things that just shouldn’t be together and perhaps Warm Bodies has shown that Romantic Comedies and Zombie movies just don’t belong together. If director and screenwriter Jonathan Levine had stuck to the original template of the novel it wouldn’t have possessed the comedic tone he ultimately chose to give Warm Bodies, but then it probably would have been an overall better film. The predictability and stagnant nature of the Romantic Comedy ruins most everything it touches, much like the zombie plague that spreads mindlessness. There are always rare exceptions but Levine’s attempt to give the conventional genre a boost with the trending creative topic of zombies just doesn’t really work in the end. Warm Bodies can’t be labeled a disaster but it really isn’t close to being a success either. It’s more gimmickry than it is original cleverness and perhaps that charming side of the movie will get you through it even though it’s completely forgettable. Warm Bodies won’t astound you and it won’t disgust you so really it’s a neutral film that has two genres canceling each other out making an oddly plain and momentarily charming attempt.

Grade: C+

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