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Ten Word or Less Review: If Pixar made a zombie movie.

The zombie genre is grim.  Always grim all the time.  Even when it’s trying to be optimistic it’s grim.  Death, hopelessness and gore pretty much hold the whole house of rotten flesh up.  So what a refreshing change of pace to see the usual attitudes of despondency and mutilation mostly absent from Warm Bodies.  This movie about dead people is so free of cynicism and nastiness it’s shocking.  It’s a cute little romance to warm the cockles of your heart.  You just have get past the part where our hero character falls in love with a girl as he’s eating her boyfriends’ brains.

R (Nicholas Houte) is a zombie with a skill for interior monologue.  He spends his days shuffling around an airport, wondering how he got there, wondering what his name was.  He thinks it started with R.  R still remembers pieces of life before being dead and he wants to live again, he just can’t quite remember how.  Nor can he overcome his desire for human flesh.  One day as he and his fellow flesh eaters descend upon a pack of unwise scavengers, he gazes past the carnage and sees Julie (Teresa Palmer), a shotgun wielding survivor whose boyfriends’ brains R is currently scarfing down, albeit with remorse.  And just like that, R is smitten.  To her great uncertainty and terror he hides her from his pack of fellow undead, taking Julie to the airplane he’s turned into a pickers heaven.  Imagine Wall-E’s digs recast as a zombie bungalow.   There the two hold up and listen to records as R tries to woo Julie with his undead charms.  Of course when you’re a zombie who can only utter a few words at a time, and you have more of those boyfriend brains hiding in your pocket, that’s really hard.

Warm Bodies unfolds as many romantic comedies do but uses the zombie apocalypse background to freshen up the tired romantic/comedy genre.  Most people like me wouldn’t mind seeing the romcom movie itself shot through the head forever but Bodies gives it hope.  For those expecting some kind of raucous companion piece to Zombieland or a satirical lark like Shaun of the Dead you’re not going to find either.  Bodies is very sincere in its earnestness and deserves praise because of that.  It’s never cynically glib or overtly quirky.  Writer/director Jonathan Levine (50/50) has crafted a forthright piece of teen romance and concentrates on building a credible relationship that draws more on Shakespeare and less on Romero.  R and Julie?  Get it?

Up and comers Houte and Palmer make a cute duo as the dead/living lovers.  Levine’s screenplay doesn’t put them through a lot of trite motions, and if it does it usually acknowledges it with a wink or a joke.  Houte puts a lot of small nuances in his dead body performance, careful not to ham it up or overplay things.  Palmer, a dead ringer for Kristen Stewart minus the attitude of bitchy aloofness, has to play a more convoluted part, but makes it work.  Rob Corrdry (Hot Tub Time Machine) gets an amusing supporting role as one of R’s fellow zombies slowly reawakening his humanity.  John Malkovich is here playing the humorless heavy.  He’s the one drag of the piece, getting in on none of the sweetness floating around in the air.

Bodies is slight to be sure but it’s so riddled with warmth and uplift that it doesn’t really matter.  After decades of religious adherence to grime and punishment through the devouring of human flesh, I find it an excellent turn of events that someone has infused a sense of genuine uplift into a genre addicted to its own despondency and horror.  I’m not sure the world is ready for a total zombie make over but I hope this signals to zombie nuts that it’s okay to turn a corner and try something else.  Michael Jackson made the undead dance once, maybe it’s time for that again.  Religiously sticking to eating people while the world falls apart is getting pretty damn old.  Warm implies that things can be better and brighter and I have no qualms with that.  Even though he ate her boyfriends’ brains.



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