Hugely entertaining adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel about a lovestruck zombie called R (Nicholas Hoult) who falls for Julie (Teresa Palmer), a beautiful girl, whose father is leading the human rebellion against the shuffling undead. Very funny, smartly observed, and also a cracking teen romance.
Writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) does a pretty excellent job of adapting Isaac Marion’s novel, Warm Bodies, for the big screen. Nicholas Hoult (best remembered as the young lad opposite Hugh Grant in About A Boy) plays R, an introspective zombie who is struggling to accept his place in a post-apocalyptic world, when he meets – and manages not to eat – the beautiful Julie (Teresa Palmer). Instead, R drags her back to his pad (a deserted aeroplane), so he can keep her safe from the other brain-munching zombies, and show off his awesome vinyl collection. Although terrified at first and desperate to get back to the relative safety of the human stronghold, Julie goes along with R and slowly warms to him, while he in turn begins to warm…literally. The longer they stay together, the more alive R begins to feel and behave, which causes myriad problems for the humans, zombies and the skeletal “Bonies” – the worst kind of dead people.
While the story alludes heavily to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the naming of its characters to the over-arching story of star-crossed lovers from rival “families”, there are also narrative and thematic similarities between Warm Bodies and that other impossible romance, Beauty and the Beast. Much of the film is narrated by R’s smartly ironic inner monologue, and the film succeeds where it could so easily have failed by focusing on its characters and their burgeoning romance, with its genre commitments as a zombie movie coming a distant second.
When Warm Bodies does address issues pertaining to the undead, Levine clearly knows his stuff. Much of the comedy relies on the audience having a working knowledge of zombie mythology, and the novelty of the film’s hero also being its monster. However, Levine is also willing to break the rules and manipulate standard zombie traits in interesting – some might even say controversial – directions. But only curmudgeonly purists will fail to glean unabashed pleasure from this respectful yet fresh and inventive take on the genre that manages to be hip and unashamedly romantic all at once. Comparisons will surely be made between this film and the Twilight series, but they are flimsy and superficial at best, with Summit Entertainment only too happy to poke fun at its earlier franchise in the Warm Bodies marketing campaign.
Much of the film’s success must be credited to Hoult and Palmer, who really sell the ridiculous concept that Julie might ever entertain a necrophilic romance, to the point that when they do finally kiss, it proves a celebratory, rather than disgusting, moment. Rob Corddry provides strong support as R’s best bud, M (also a zombie), while John Malkovich is on hand to play antagonist as General Grigio, leader of the human resistance and, rather inconveniently, also Julie’s dad.
Warm Bodies also boasts a killer soundtrack, featuring a slew of 80s and 90s pop and rock standards that almost always hit the right comedic note. That said, the script does on occasion have a habit of repeating some of its stronger gags once too often, but for the most part remains lively, hip and most importantly, fun. It makes passing observations about the lack of social interaction in today’s society and how consumerism has turned us all into shuffling, munching zombies, but fortunately the film is far less interested in spinning that broken record again, and more inspired by its central love story. Edgar Wright can rest easy in the knowledge that his 2004 classic Shaun of the Dead remains the best example of the admittedly small zom-rom-com genre, but Warm Bodies is shuffling awkwardly right there behind it, trying not to stare or act too creepy.
Cancer is clearly no laughing matter, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen’s new film is an insightful and acutely observed comedy that raises a defiant middle finger to the killer disease, even as its protagonist fears for his life. Written by Rogen’s friend Will Reiser, inspired by his own experiences, 50/50 is the story of Adam (Gordon-Levitt), a responsible, clean-living 27-year-old who visits the doctor for mild back pain, only to be diagnosed with a rare strain of spinal cancer. While his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) opts to leave, Adam’s mother (Angelica Huston) attempts to smother him, resulting in Adam pushing his family away. Only best friend Kyle (Rogen) stays by Adam’s side, refusing to let him wallow in his condition, and even making light of his potentially tragic situation.
In the era of frat boy bromance comedies, which all too often rely on gross-out humour and misogynistic leeriness, audiences have good reason to be wary of a comedy addressing cancer. However, Reiser’s writing clearly speaks from first-hand experience, and many of the observations smack of honesty rather than sentimentality or inappropriate crassness. Marijuana features prominently – this is a Seth Rogen film after all – but is introduced, not by Kyle’s character, but by Phillip Baker Hall as one of Adam’s fellow chemo patients. Sex and dating are also on the agenda, especially after Kyle convinces Adam he can use his condition to attract sympathetic women, but the reality of his illness is never forgotten and the one time he does succeed in getting a girl into bed, Adam must stop because he is in too much pain.
Adam is apathetic to his condition for much of the film, but nevertheless seeks counseling from Katie (Anna Kendrick), a young inexperienced psychologist, and together they muddle through, providing each other with an emotional crutch for their needs. Unsurprisingly the potential for romance materializes, but things remain realistic, helping Adam and the film grounded, so his antics with Kyle don’t spiral out of control. Reiser also ensures that we see the complexity of all Adam’s relationships – especially with his emergency-ready mother, who is already coping with a husband with Alzheimer’s. As Adam’s condition worsens and the very real possibility of death looms ever closer, he attempts to address each of these relationships before its too late.
While to some degree 50/50 must adhere to a traditional romantic comedy structure, including conflict, separation and hopefully a final reconciliation, Jonathan Levine’s delicate direction and Gordon-Levitt’s disarmingly endearing performance ensure that audiences will be nervously gnawing at their fingernails alongside Adam’s family and friends come the film’s incredibly emotional finale. A special mention should also be given to the film’s soundtrack that incorporates the music of Radiohead and Pearl Jam to winning effect. 50/50 is a wonderfully fresh take on the “cancer movie” that is funny, moving and incredibly life-affirming, but most importantly of all, displays the utmost respect for its subject matter and an acute understanding of our fragile mortality.