The Best Picture nominees for the 2009 Academy Awards were as follows: The Hurt Locker, Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air. What do all of these movies have in common? They are vastly inferior to Zombieland. Zombieland (rated R) was the best movie of the entire year. And the year after, for that matter. As is typically the case with the Oscars and most other awards programs, they ignore true greatness in favor of melodrama, faux profundity, and/or ham-fisted political statements.
Could anybody really believe that Avatar was the best movie of any year?
But we’re here to talk about Zombieland, not the utter backwardness of Hollywood’s cultural sense. Anyways, as the name indicates, Zombieland is a zombie apocalypse film, taking place across our former United States. Don’t let that fool you, though. This isn’t the standard schlock where it’s just an endless march of the undead gnawing on gore. This is about how regular folks deal with having their entire lives stripped away and replaced with an identity that is focused strictly on survival. To that extent, this is much more a character piece with a zombie infestation as the backdrop, as opposed to a standard horror tale or comedy. Understand that, and you’ll have no choice but to love this movie.
The main character is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who is trying to get back to his family in Ohio. Along the way, he encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Their interactions and group dynamic are what makes the whole thing work. I’m going to skip the standard Jesse Eisenberg/MichaelCera jokes and simply say that he was perfect for the role, as was Woody Harrelson as the crude, trigger-happy Tallahassee. I wouldn’t expect brilliant comedic chemistry between these two, but lo, there was, and it was epic in its glory. Breslin was kind of an after-thought. I’m probably in the minority, but I don’t get the current fascination with Emma Stone. She doesn’t get in the way here or anything. She’s just annoying. Maybe that was the point. I’m not sure.
This was a Ruben Fleischer movie. Yeah, that didn’t mean anything to me either. For a guy’s first effort, this is about as good as it gets. I mentioned the cast management above, but it goes way beyond that. Everything from the set design to the shot selection here was almost perfect. As one example, the applications of Columbus’s various “rules” for surviving Zombieland that are inserted throughout the story are clever, relevant, and quick enough to add to the context of the movie without being a distraction or a drag to the action. This is likewise true with the blending of action, comedy, drama, and horror. The mix is seamless, with nary a glitch in sight. This is a tremendous accomplishment for any director and light years ahead of what, say, the Coens did with A Serious Man, which also tried to mesh multiple cinematic elements together with much less success.
The Catholic content is minimal. There is a message on the importance of family units as superior to society as a whole. That was unexpected. It lacks the typical “man’s inhumanity to man” that is found in most films in this genre. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a different perspective on the genre, so having a different message is par for the course.
Remember, this is a zombie movie and merits every bit of the R-rating it carries. There are still lots of “stringy” parts, with gore and flesh-eating and all that sort of thing. Nobody has any time for sexual content, so you’re clear in that respect. The profanity was probably the most disappointing part. Granted, I would probably be loose with my language if I was running for my life from the walking dead. It just would have been nice to have kept the show blasphemy free. There were only a couple of such instances, but it was still a let-down amongst so much other greatness. F-bombs, on the other hand, are quite prevalent. Again, a blight on an otherwise marvelous effort.
Zombieland is a rare movie that combines all the best of many different kinds of movies without diluting them or bastardizing one in favor of another. It is a triumph of filmmaking, with something for everyone. Let me put it this way. Even my wife liked it, and she hates zombie movies. The language is rougher than I would prefer, but I suppose it’s more docile than what I would have expected from the average horror movie nowadays. Still, it’s a fresh combination of humor, excitement, and even emotion.