Warm Bodies was cute and lovable and everything I could ask from a zombie apocalypse Romeo and Juliet. I like zombie movies and Shakespearean pastiches and Beauty and the Beast plots, and this film is three great tastes that taste great together. (The world still needs a film version of "A Plague On Both Your Houses," which had the idea of R&J w/Z first and best. But this is great fun too.)
The entire show depends on Nicholas Hoult's facial expressions. R. the zombie can crank out a few words, but he's mostly confined to body language and wide eyes. (Yet another element I love: mute or mostly voiceless characters.) Fortunately he's more than just a pretty face, and even has a few silent-film-worthy moments. A goofy, gawping expression, a guilty puppy look. Rotting pallid undead puppy, but still. This is R. talking about the Boneys, really old dehumanized zombies: "They'll eat anything with a pulse. I mean, so will I, but at least I'm conflicted about it." They didn't do much with the whole humans-are-food, oh-cherry-cheesecake-you-are-my-life-now idea inherent in any undead/human romance, but fair enough, you can't really show horror hunger pangs and keep the tone light and silly. Still, Hoult plays against his good looks with everything he's got, eating brains with his mouth wide open and slouching around in filthy sweats with his nose quivering at the scent of human flesh. ("I don't remember what I used to do for a living, but my hoodie suggests I was unemployed.") There is a shirtless scene which would be fanservice except that he's covered in unhealed wounds that leak gross old blood. He's the gentlest possible satire on the whole school of post-Twilight fiction where one's boyfriend is a supernatural hottie of choice.
Teresa Palmer as Julie managed the difficult trick of being both the only reasonably sane character in the show and the one who falls in love with an undead abomination. In Beauty and the Beast narratives, it's always easy for me to see why Beauty loves the Beast--I like monsters and grotesque characters, or else I wouldn't be in the audience--but often hard for me to see why the Beast would love Beauty, who in the hands of lazy writers is solely defined by her looks. No problem here: Julie had enough characterization to seem like she actually would be tough and witty enough to survive the zombie apocalypse. There was a split-second that summed up the movie: Julie first sees R. eating a friend of hers, and she throws a knife which chunks into the left side of his chest. R. gives her a bugeyed admiring stare, obviously thinking, "What a woman!" The hunting knife is the equivalent of a little cartoon Cupid showing up and shooting arrows into your heart.
Also, I like Rob Corddry. I may have a new character actor whose Career I will Follow, as they say, with Interest.* Corddry as M. is R.'s best undead buddy, there to be a little older and wiser and more cynical. The moment I knew I was going to like this movie was when R. joined M. at a deserted airport lounge and they sat at the bar and held a friendly conversation by going, "Hrrrrgh." "...Grrrrrrrah!" "Rrrrrr," at each other with their teeth bared. R. and M. both spend plenty of time in wistful yearning for the people they used to be, and though R's internal monologue drives the plot (excellent use of private-eye-voice-over, as his articulate inner voice speaks for his grunting exterior) it's M who carries off the saddest moment, staring into a darkened picture window and smiling slightly as he recalls something wonderful we don't see. He's trying to act human, after that, but never quite gets the details right. When he pats his friend on the shoulder in solidarity, he rocks R. back and forth as though shaking apples from a tree.
This film wins the Better than the Book Prize. It's a ton lighter and fluffier than the novel, which is all to the good as the bloated parts of the novel were the most grimdark passages. It also has the best-placed use of "Shelter from the Storm" I've ever seen. And that's all I'm going to say. Go see it yourselves. Recommended for hopelessly romantic horror fans, or anyone who could use a good-natured laugh.
*(I like character actors and will seek out any film that has a lot of screen time for Timothy Spall, Danny Trejo, Mackenzie Crook, Richard Griffiths, John Lithgow, and that guy who played the Kurgan. There are no women on this list because movies are crap at creating female roles most of the time, and also I am biased in favor of unconventionally handsome men.)