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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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Warm Bodies is a smart, funny, and heartwarming romantic comedy... with zombies.

To Eat or Not to Eat

Art imitating art imitating life
Art imitating art imitating life

Hot on the heels of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters comes this genre-bender that mixes romantic comedy, Shakespeare, and zombies. This one’s basically Romeo & Juliet: Undead.

Typical of zombie movies, there was some sort of nasty incident in which a virus spread across the United States of America. Newspaper headlines document the downfall of humanity, with even the president falling victim to the brain-deadening effects.

Naturally, a band of doomsday preppers have sealed off the last bit of contaminant-free terrain and are defending themselves form the legion of lurching, grunting undead.

The action begins by introducing a zombie who doesn’t even remember his name, so he simply goes by what he thinks is his first initial, R. (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class). He might not remember his name, but his cogent and humorous voiceover comments offset R.’s physical dysfunction. And he certainly knows he’s not performing normally – that walk from the airport to the center of town is going to take a long, long time because the zombies move so darn slowly.

Hungry Heart

The best things about Warm Bodies are the sense of humor it carries for the genre mash-up and the heart the story has for the characters. What ties those two highly-successful elements together is a jaundiced view of today’s society.

At one point, R. yearns for the pre-apocalypse days when people enjoyed life and simply spending time with each other. The flashbacks to those halcyon days show people transfixed by their mobile devices, totally ignoring the world – and people – around them. There’s also a jab at our increasingly tactile-less world. R., as it turns out, is a scavenger for nostalgia; his collection of pilfered toys and trinkets transform his airplane lair into a man cave of pop culture. R. has ditched the iPod in favor of old-school vinyl. Why? As he so succinctly (and accurately) puts it, he prefers vinyl because it’s “more alive.”

The first third of the movie is a real delight, a pleasant surprise that comes out of left field (as most pleasant surprises do). That time is spent setting up the characters and very quickly establishing that the movie has a healthy sense of humor about itself.

Then the movie settles into the Romeo and Juliet storyline, which lumbers to life and winds up heartwarming.

Yeah, it’s cheesy to refer to a zombie romance as heartwarming, but that’s precisely what happens.

Human Touch

As morbid as the high-level zombie concept is, it’s used here as a touching way to evoke all sorts of emotions. And it segues into a story of hope for humankind and zombiekind to coexist. The spark for that reconciliation between the Montagues and the Capulets, so much like E.T.’s heartlight, comes from a very simple image, found on a billboard, of a couple holding hands.

R. begins his human renaissance when he first sees Julie (Teresa Palmer, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Something about her triggers dormant feelings and genes deep inside; perhaps it’s the way she moves – with a rifle, while blowing away the zombies. She’s hot, she knows how to pack heat, and she knows how to run. For many men, that is a lethal triple-threat.

The zombies are of course seen as the walking dead, lifeless, brainless creatures with one item on their agenda: to sustain themselves by eating fresh human flesh. Eating brains is a sort of delicacy, one that requires a certain taste. By eating human brains, the diner also gets to experience that person’s memories. As it happens, R. eats the brains of Julie’s boyfriend, which generally speaking isn’t a good move in the romance department. Here, though, it works, given the sense of humor established early on, and that tone works its way through what initially seems like a ludicrous, disgusting notion.

As for Palmer, she has been a star in the making for a while now and hopefully Warm Bodies will be the movie that takes her up to the next level of opportunities beyond the fantasy-based worlds of sorcerers, spacemen, and zombies.