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Lisa Frankenstein (A Movie Review)


Starring Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, Carla Gugino, Jenna Davis, Trina LaFargue, Paola Andino, Joshua Montes, Chris Greening, Mae Anglim, Joey Bree Harris, Henry Eikenberry, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Luke Sexton, Ayla Diane Miller, Jailyn Rae, Bryce Romero, Ashton Leigh, Charlie Talbert and Ray Gaspard.

Screenplay by Diablo Cody.

Directed by Zelda Williams.

Distributed by Focus Features. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody has always had one of the sharpest minds for hip female storytelling and wickedly funny dialogue. Since she broke through with the Oscar-nominated 2006 film Juno, she has shared some of the most quirkily fun and yet often surprisingly dark women’s stories in Hollywood, including her series The United States of Tara, the criminally under-appreciated classic Young Adult, the aging rock goddess film Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme’s final film) and even writing the book of the hit Broadway musical Jagged Little Pill, based on the music of Alanis Morissette.

So, Cody is mostly remembered for her slightly offbeat looks at the real lives of women. Still, even with her feet on the ground, Cody has always had a bit of a soft spot for the horror genre, as well, as you might pick up from her pen name. (Although the writer, whose real name is Brook Busey Maurio, insists the pen name came from merging the song “El Diablo” by old Duran Duran side-project Arcadia, and a town where she once got a speeding ticket called Cody, Wyoming.)

In 2009, hot on the heels of her breakouts with Juno and The United States of Tara, she penned a comic horror film called Jennifer’s Body, with Megan Fox as a demonically possessed killer cheerleader. The film opened to terrible reviews and box office, although over the 15 years since it was released Jennifer’s Body has gotten something of a cult following. She has not really worked on horror again since then unless you count the uncredited script doctoring which she did for the 2013 reboot of The Evil Dead.

That is until now. As you may guess from the title, the film is a very loose variation of the Frankenstein saga. (For the record, in the film the main character is not related to the original family and is not named Lisa Frankenstein but has the rather unfortunate name of Lisa Swallows.) Of course, there are lots of other very obvious influences touched upon as well, including Edward Scissorhands, Heathers, The Breakfast Club and even She’s All That.

Lisa (Kathryn Newton of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things) is a very, very disillusioned goth student in the mid-1980s. Her mental problems stem from her childhood when she witnessed her mother being stabbed to death in a home invasion – one that was never solved. Now her dad (Joe Chrest) has married a hellish evil stepmother (Carla Gugino), and they live with her and her new gorgeous, popular cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). In one example of how Cody likes to toy with the audience’s expectations, Taffy is not a complete bitch to this new girl who is living in her house. Instead Taffy is very loving, nurturing and protective of Lisa.

Lisa really has no friends other than Taffy – although Taffy keeps trying to include her in activities to help her get to know people. Her hair is an unbrushed rat’s nest, she wears way too much black makeup and formless unflattering clothes. (Although, as is normal in this kind of teen film, all she really needs to do is fix her hair, get a makeup lesson, borrow some of Taffy’s sexier outfits and take off her glasses and suddenly she is absolutely gorgeous.)

The fact that she really doesn’t fit in is not helped by the fact that she often spends time in an abandoned and overgrown graveyard in the woods. She claims she enjoys the quiet, but she also likes being with the memories of the dead. In particular, she is fascinated by an elaborate headstone for a young pianist who died in the 1830s – which includes a full bust of the deceased.

One night, after a particularly uncomfortable party, in which she was dosed with drugs, Lisa goes to the graveyard in dismay. Somehow, due to a misunderstood wish, a torrential storm, and the graveyard’s apparent magical properties, Lisa somehow brings the corpse of a 150-year-dead musician back to life, although the worse for wear after over a century buried, filthy and missing several body parts. (Don’t even try to figure out the how and why of anything supernatural that happens in this film, none of it really will make sense.)

Cole Sprouse (of Riverdale) plays the creature. As with anyone playing the monster (or just a monster), Sprouse has a tricky role. He is only able to express himself through a series of grunts, gestures and glances through most of the film. (Only in the final scene, which may or may not be a dream sequence, he is able to speak.)

The creature is supposed to be a sweet, sensitive sort, but he also has a homicidal streak when he gets angry. He and Lisa start a killing spree to replace some of his lost body parts (again, how this works makes no sense at all, but you either buy in or you don’t).

And while the story made no sense whatsoever, I kind of bought in because the script was consistently funny enough that I overlooked many of Lisa Frankenstein’s flaws. Stylishly directed by Zelda Williams (Robin’s daughter) and well-acted – particularly by Newton and Soberano – it’s far from a great movie, but I have to admit I mostly liked it. It’s certainly different.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: February 9, 2024.


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