Considering the annual slate of forgettable first-quarter releases, "Warm Bodies" is easily the best movie of 2013 so far. Part "Romeo and Juliet" love story, part romantic comedy, and part zombie apocalypse thriller, this adaptation of Isaac Marion's critically acclaimed young adult novel is a humorous and surprisingly sweet look at star-crossed (or, in this case, dead-and-alive) love. "R" (Nicholas Hoult), a thoughtful zombie gets back in touch with his humanity thanks to the very alive, very beautiful Julie (Teresa Palmer) -- after he devours her ex-boyfriend's brains. Directed and adapted by Jonathan Levine ("50/50," "The Wackness"), "Warm Bodies" is a fabulous choice for teens and adults, guys and girls, and even couples eager to see something both parties will equally enjoy. Generation X parents will be especially excited by the throwback soundtrack featuring rock classics from the Boss, Guns 'N Roses and Roy Orbison. So whether it's a first date, or a teen night out, "Warm Bodies" has just the right amount of bite to make for a lively night at the movies.
Before you head out for a zombie apocalypse reverie, here are five issues to consider or discuss with your kids (ideally 13 & up).
1. Zombies Eat Brains: Even though the focus of this zombie flick isn't their insatiable hunger for human innards, the zombies (R included) in "Warm Bodies" do have to eat, and what they eat is… people. The body count includes scenes in which the ravished zombies ambush a group of young adults and go to town on an adolescent buffet. R eats the brains of one victim again and again (to access the dead guy's memories), and in other gross moments a zombie peels away part of his skin, a zombie eats a guy's guts, a bunch of skeletal zombies ("boneys") do battle against humans and "fleshies," and R keeps rubbing his oozing black blood on Julie.
2. The Living Dead: Unlike pretty much every other zombie film, in which the undead are always the irredeemable "Evil Dead," and the reason behind the zombie apocalypse is usually firmly understood, R proves that the zombies – at least those with enough flesh to not be otherworldly boneys – can be compelled to feel again, to slowly but surely restart their cold, dead hearts. Teenagers old enough to handle other zombie movies and understand the genre rules that "Warm Bodies" departs from may want to see zombie classics, like "28 Days Later," "Zombieland," "Shaun of the Dead," "Dawn of the Dead," and (of course) "Night of the Living Dead."
3. The Hot Corpse: This being a zombie romantic comedy of sorts, there's a good bit of romance and flirting and even some passionate kisses in the story. R (and Hoult is even handsome as a pale "corpse") desires Julie but being a zombie doesn't know how to express his feelings. One sequence follows how R and Julie get to know and flirt with each other in a sweet middle-school-friendly way (except for the time a shivering Julie strips off her wet clothes to climb into bed in only her bra and panties). By the end of the movie, the flirting turns firmly into ardor, as the star-crossed lovers finally let their chemistry spark.
4. Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow: At the heart of the story is a very Shakespearean theme -- R, the smitten undead Romeo, is in love with Julie(t), not just a living girl, but the daughter of the General (John Malkovich) of the an armed colony of zombie-shooting survivors. In what ways does "Warm Bodies" follow the "Romeo and Juliet" story line, and are they as doomed? Talk about other Shakespearean-based tales of forbidden love ("West Side Story," "Romeo Must Die," "Gnomeo and Juliet," and Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" – to name just a few) and add them to your family's movie night queue.
5. Read It Then See It: Since author Isaac Marion isn't as popular as Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins (at least not yet), it's likely that your teen hasn't read the clever book on which the movie is based. The post-apocalyptic novel delves even deeper into R's thoughts about the zombie society and explores the metaphysical connection he shares with his victim/Julie's ex, Perry. The film adaptation doesn't show how Perry still "speaks" to R in his mind and prompts him to do certain things to provide closure to Julie's grief. But there's also a lot more about R's best friend M, the airport zombie horde, even zombie kids, that the movie had to trim from the story. Any one who likes the movie will love Marion's crisply written story.