Inside the Zomb-Rom-Com :: ’Warm Bodies’
Jonathan Levine is diving headfirst back into genre movies. And certainly, you can't blame him for abandoning the form the first time around: his debut, "All the Girls Love Mandy Lane," seemed a sure thing, but ended in disaster. It earned raves among horror aficionados. It tore up the film festival circuit, working up a buzz most indie's could only dream of. It was set to be released by a respectable studio. And then... nothing. The film was shelved (supposedly due to the poor box office performance of other horror films, like "Grindhouse,") and to this day hasn't been released in the US.
So he went off and made "The Wackness" and "50/50," two lyrical, realist coming-of-age comedies (he wrote the former himself - it's personal to the point of being painful - and worked on the second from a script by Will Reiser,) and put his so-called "debut" behind him. But now he returns to horror with Warm Bodies, a zombie comedy-cum-Romeo and Juliet-adaptation (certainly, it has the whiff of Twilight in its DNA, if not the stink of it,) that wears the influence of Romero and Fulci proudly on its sleeve.
Along with supporting actress Analeigh Tipton, who plays Norah (the nurse to Teresa Palmer's Juliet, if you will), Levine made a pilgrimage back to the Boston area to screen the film for some hardcore fans (he went to high school in Andover, MA; and later studied at Brown.) After another one of the innumerable screenings of their nationwide tour, the two spoke with us about their film.
’I fucked that up...’
EDGE: Have you been watching the movie over and over again in every town, or do you need to skip out?
Jonathan Levine: No, I can’t ... I mean, what movie have you seen more than any other?
EDGE: Probably ’Rushmore.’
Jonathan Levine: Ok. Imagine seeing ’Rushmore’ 1,000 more times, and that’s how many times I see a movie by the time it gets to people. Once a movie is done, I literally don’t watch it. Like, ’50/50 ’has been on Showtime, and it’s cool when I’m flipping around like ’Holy shit, I directed that movie!’ - and then I look at it for five minutes... My girlfriend is the production designer, but I can’t watch it for more than five minutes or else I’m like ’I fucked that up, I fucked that up, I fucked that up,’ so then I just turn the channel.
A diverse career
EDGE: As an actress, can you not watch yourself on the big screen? Or are you like ’Screw it, I’m watching it!’
Analeigh Tipton: Oh no, well, I’ve had both experiences recently... In this, it’s nice because I play the best friend and I kind of come in and out of the film. I can lean back and enjoy the film for what it is. It’s such a small piece of me; it doesn’t bother me too much. I haven’t seen it with an audience yet - I’ve only seen it sitting awkwardly alone in a theater.
Jonathan Levine: You saw it in, like, a big movie theater?
Analeigh Tipton: A decent sized screening room...
Jonathan Levine: Wow.
Analeigh Tipton: Nothing huge... but I told you - I had my Snickers bar, they always have this basket of candy at the side, so I stocked up.
EDGE: So this is very much a return to genre cinema for you, after the fairly realist trappings of ’The Wackness’ and ’50/50.’ Which side would you rather be playing on?
Jonathan Levine: I like doing all sorts of different things. I loved the opportunity to get back into genre and have fun and that kind of stuff, and I do think this is the most similar aesthetically to ’All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’ - just kind of the idea that you’re taking a genre and kind of using it as a Trojan horse to kind of tell a different kind of story, even though ’Mandy Lane’ is much darker and way more fucked up.
Another fucked up coming of age story
EDGE: You do like your fucked up coming of age stories; you’re kind of four for four on that...
Jonathan Levine: (After laughing) It’s true - everything I’ve wrote has been a coming of age story, and the next thing I wrote is also a coming of age story. But, yeah, I liked doing both, man. Now that I’ve done this, I want to go do something - not necessarily smaller, but I would like to have just as much money and do a comedy with some drama in it, but I would like it to take place in a non-post apocalyptic world. It’s hard for me to think about this because you just kind of end up psychoanalyzing yourself. I’ll ask my therapist at some point ’Why?’
EDGE: And there was no marijuana in the movie, and that’s been your authorial stamp up to this point...
Jonathan Levine: Yeah, it was my first movie without weed. You know what? I actually had written Nora (Tipton’s character) smoking weed into an early draft, and one of the studio execs was like ’Really, dude? Come on...’
Analeigh Tipton: Wait, really?
Jonathan Levine: Yeah. Well, in the book she smokes a lot of weed. Don’t worry - my next movie is going to have twice as much weed.
A good risk
EDGE: So Analeigh, what about the story drew you to it? It’s a smaller role than you’ve been playing recently.
Analeigh Tipton: I was fully skeptical at first, because actually - my first read of it was ’zombie romance,’ a genre film and a best friend role - it could go bad in so many ways. But, it was the people involved. You look at what someone like John Malkovich has done, and Nicholas (Hoult) and Teresa Palmer, who I actually hadn’t seen much of her work, but she’s Australian - she has that hot accent. And Jonathan taking something and being able to poetically speak to an audience in a different way. The experience of it was going to be a good risk, and something I would take something from.
EDGE: So you’re very much updating the George A. Romero zombie-movie subtext about the culture being brain-dead; taking it up to involve cell phones and reality TV and the like. Are zombie movies getting bigger because we’re getting dumber?
Jonathan Levine: That is generally has been my stock answer. You’ve distilled it - I talk about it in more flowery, intellectual terms, but you distilled it - you know, there’s the thing I really like where [a zombie] is reading US Weekly with Kim Khardashian on the cover. There’s something about the trivial nature of our lives today, and how we’re probably wasting a lot of them. I don’t know, what do you think? [to Analeigh] Are we getting dumber?
Analeigh Tipton: You know, what happened with the whole positive moving to singularity thing? There was a tipping point. Everyone was like, "hey, this is great, technology, we’re all joining together," but then recently-ish, it’s gone over the edge. Everyone’s just thinking "Yeah, technology. We’re all fucked."
Warm Bodies is in theaters on February 1, 2013.