It’s rare for a romantic comedy to center on two people who aren’t, for all intents and purposes, totally wrong for each other. In many rom-coms, like You’ve Got Mail and Crazy Rich Asians, the social and class differences between the romantic leads are unavoidably obvious. In other films, like When Harry Met Sally… and Set It Up, the differences between two love interests can be a bit more nuanced and ideological.
No romantic comedy pushes the genre’s tried-and-true, odd-couple formula quite as far as Warm Bodies. The film, based on Isaac Marion’s 2010 novel, doesn’t just try to pair, say, an independent bookstore owner with a corporate executive. Instead, Warm Bodies pushes its genre’s ill-fitting couple trope to the limit by creating a love story between an ordinary human girl and a male zombie.
Warm Bodies is a silly, silly movie, and it knows it.
Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies follows R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who can’t remember much about his pre-undead life and who spends most of his days hungering for human flesh. However, when he crosses paths with a human survivor of the zombie apocalypse named Julie (Teresa Palmer), R’s heart begins to beat again. Their connection not only begins to bring R back to life, but the impact spreads to his fellow zombies.
Unfortunately, that puts R’s zombie friends in danger from the Boneys, zombies who have completely abandoned their humanity and will eat anything with a heartbeat. In their attempts to save R and his fellow zombies, R and Julie find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the world’s not-quite-undead hordes and Julie’s human father, Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich). It’s Romeo & Juliet with zombies and a heap of nods to rom-com classics.
While the film’s attempt to place its fairly straightforward rom-com plot in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled world might seem laughable on paper, Warm Bodies mostly manages to pull off its unique genre combination. Levine has executed similar tonal gambits throughout his career, especially in films like 50/50 and Long Shot. When it comes to Warm Bodies, though, the film’s successes are largely due to the talent and chemistry of its underrated leads.
In recent years, projects like The Favourite, The Great, and Mad Max: Fury Road have given Nicholas Hoult the chance to prove himself as a versatile actor. In Warm Bodies, that same versatility and willingness to toy with typical genre conventions are on display. Palmer also brings a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek edge to her performance that manages to heighten the film’s acknowledgment of how strange it is without ever threatening to invalidate the sincerity of R and Julie’s odd romance.
Together, she and Hoult prove to be the perfect leads. They’re two actors who have not only been frequently misused by Hollywood, but have always shown a desire to star in projects that defy viewers’ expectations. The fact that they have legitimately strong chemistry is the cherry on top of the bloody, almost sickly sweet cake that is Warm Bodies.
Warm Bodies is streaming now on Amazon Prime.