Warm Bodies, the adaptation of Isaac Marion's novel by Jonathan Levine, is just really darn cute. It's a teen zom-rom-com, but a smart one hinging on a terrific performance by Nicholas Hoult as lead zombie R. R lives in a world where the zombies have already won and human survivors are few, but the "life" these corpses have secured for themselves isn't much of a life at all. When R eats the brains of a handsome bro out to kill him (Dave Franco's Perry), he absorbs the memories and feelings of that bro - including his feelings for Julie, the living girl for whom R now has a hankering. And not even a hankering for her brains! R likes all of her.
R takes Julie (and a pointed balcony scene makes it clear that those handles are supposed to remind you of something) back to his clan's headquarters at the abandoned airport, smearing her in his smell to get her through the gates. They pass an undead TSA agent who will wave that metal detector for all of eternity, and head into the old airplane that R has made his home, collecting bits of meaningless knick-knacks representing an echo of the human life he once lived. He keeps her there, ostensibly to keep her safe, but really to give her a chance to warm up to him. They play records and slapsies, and as Julie's father mounts a desperate search outside, it looks like R's plan just might be working.
What sounds like a remarkably uncomfortable (not to mention implausible) premise, a romance between a zombie boy and a living girl, is made believable by the two leads. Hoult is so good as R, those big, pale eyes expressing awkward admiration and existential dread while his mouth only offers grunts and moans. (His witty voice-over reminding himself, "Don't be creepy. Don't be creepy!" doesn't hurt.) Teresa Palmer plays the object of R's ardor, and though she may have been cast for her not-insignificant resemblance to Kristen Stewart, cashing in on that Twilight for zombies thing, Palmer has a lot of her own spark, and a really lovely, wholesome chemistry with Hoult. And while we're on the topic, Warm Bodies has something in spades that Twilight wholly lacks: levity.
It's funny! Really funny, actually. R's desperate attempts to convince Julie that he doesn't want to eat her bring about a lot of laughs, as do a clever and unexpected soundtrack, plenty of visual gags and great supporting performances by Rob Corddry as R's corpse pal and Analeigh Tipton as Julie's breathing buddy. John Malkovich gives a pretty rote performance as Julie's overbearing military father, but it's nice to have him around, anyway. And our own dear Devin has a fairly visible zombie cameo, to my immense glee.
Warm Bodies has a really interesting angle, lifted straight from the novel, in that zombies crave brains because they're yearning for the memories and emotions they no longer possess. While all the grunting and shuffling translates into a few chuckles here and scares elsewhere, Warm Bodies makes the case that it's a melancholy existence, that of a zombie. They can't even remember their own names.
After Levine's 50/50, a film that I believe is quite special, Warm Bodies is a bit of cutesy fluff, to be sure. Aside from a few really badly rendered skeletons, it looks great, in Levine's clean, engaging style. Those skeletons simplify matters a bit, as the "bonies" are the big bads of the film, making the zombies a more palatable choice for the humans of the movie and the audience. Everything's pretty easy in Warm Bodies, actually, and while that ease doesn't make for a particularly substantial film, it leaves us with a charming, lovable one.