Bryce Romero, Carla Gugino, Charlie Talbert, Cole Sprouse, comedy, Henry Eikenberry, Jenna Davis, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Joe Chrest, Kathryn Newton, Lisa Frankenstein, Liza Soberano, Luke Sexton, movies, Paola Andino, reviews, Trina LaFargue, Zelda Williams
February 12, 2024
by Carla Hay
Directed by Zelda Williams
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1989, in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “Lisa Frankenstein” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latin people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An 18-year-old social outcast resurrects an 1800s man from his grave, and they become a serial-killing duo.
Culture Audience: “Lisa Frankenstein” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and quirky comedies that blend the mediocre with the macabre.
“Lisa Frankenstein” makes futile attempts to be an edgy comedy about the antics of a teenage loner and a resurrected corpse, but this often-dull misfire has gruesome and ill-conceived jokes that are as inert as a corpse. The movie’s concept isn’t terrible, but it is badly mishandled in the writing, directing, and uneven performances from the cast members.
Directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody, “Lisa Frankenstein” takes place in 1989, in an unnamed U.S. city. Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin Williams) makes her feature-film directorial debut with “Lisa Frankenstein.” Cody won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the 2007 comedy “Juno” (which is still Cody’s best movie), and she is a producer of “Lisa Frankenstein,” which will get inevitable comparisons to Cody’s 2009 horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” another movie about a social-misfit teenager whose closest friend has been supernaturally transformed into being a serial killer.
In “Lisa Frankenstein,” Lisa Swallows (played by Kathryn Newton) is an 18-year-old student in high school. She’s a mopey loner who likes to spend her time listening to angsty rock bands such as The Cure and Bauhaus and visiting Bachelors Cemetery Grove. She has become fixated on the grave of a pianist who died in his 20s in the 19th century. The man, who is only given the name The Creature (played by Cole Sprouse) in the movie’s end credits, committed suicide after he was rejected by a woman he was courting.
Lisa’s fantasies are preoccupied with thinking about what it would be like to be in a romance with this tragic person. She also has a crush on someone who is alive: Michael Trent (played by Henry Eikenberry), the good-looking editor-in-chief of their high school newspaper. Michael has already noticed Lisa because he has published some of her gloomy poems in the newspaper and has complimented her about her writing talent. Lisa gets nervous and shy whenever Trent talks to her.
Lisa feels like an outsider in her own home. As explained in an exposition dump in the movie, Lisa’s mother (played by Jennifer Pierce Mathus) was murdered by a home-invading axe murderer (played by Luke Sexton), which is shown in a brief flashback. (“Lisa Frankenstein” is so poorly written, it never bothers to mention if the murderer was ever caught.)
Just a few months after the murder, Lisa’s father Dale (played by Joe Chrest) married a psychiatric-facility nurse named Janet (played by Carla Gugino), who is a stereotypical mean-spirited stepmother to Lisa. Lisa and Dale have moved to Janet’s home because of Dale and Janet’s marriage, and Lisa has enrolled in a new school for her last year in high school. There are some not-funny-at-all and tedious scenes of Janet accusing Lisa of breaking things in the house. Dale is oblivious to things that are going on in the household.
From a previous marriage, Janet has a teenage daughter named Taffy (played by Liza Soberano), a perky, not-very-smart cheerleader, who is about the same age as Lisa and who goes to the same school, which is called Brookfield High School. Taffy is also a nosy gossip who has a posse of three close friends—Lori (played by Jenna Davis), Tricia (played by Trina LaFargue) and Misty (played by Paola Andino)—who are nothing but sounding boards for Taffy’s babblings. Taffy repeatedly tries to make Lisa more sociable, even though it’s obvious that Lisa doesn’t care about being popular or making friends at the school.
Another student who interacts with Lisa is her nerdy lab partner Doug (played by Bryce Romero), who is not the “nice guy” he might appear to be, as Lisa finds out at a party where Doug initiates some sexual touching on Lisa without her consent. When Lisa tells Doug to stop because she’s not interested, Doug confirms that he’s a sleaze when he responds by saying that Lisa should finish what she started and adds, “It’s not nice to lead people on.” There seems to be no point for the movie to unrealistically make every teenage guy who’s in contact with Lisa to be either (a) unacceptable or (b) unattainable, other to make Lisa look like she has no boyfriend prospects except for the dead guy she resurrected.
Lisa works part-time as a seamstress for a local tailor: a rude creep named Wayne (played by Charlie Talbert), who makes sexist remarks to Lisa about the way she looks and her lack of a social life. It’s an example of a subplot that is thrown into the movie and goes nowhere. Curiously, after Lisa undergoes a makeover, she spends about half the movie trying to look like Madonna in the 1985 comedy film “Desperately Seeking Susan,” which would make Lisa’s fashion choices about four years too late for this story.
One day, Lisa is having fantasies about the dead pianist when she says out loud: “I wish I was with you.” It isn’t long before he is inexplicably resurrected and shows up at her house as a filthy walking cadaver, who is mute for nearly the entire movie. Lisa spends most of the story trying to hide The Creature so she can keep him a secret all to her herself. The expected “corpse makeover” happens, some of it in a tanning bed—as if a rotting zombie in a tanning bed is supposed to automatically be funny. The rest of the movie shows Lisa and The Creature engaging in various shenanigans (including mutilation of body parts and murder) while falling in love with each other.
What could have been hilarious fodder for very dark comedy is instead an erratically paced movie filled with stale jokes. Newton and Sprouse do not have convincing chemistry together as a would-be couple in a morbid romance. The movie’s direction is mishandled because the cast members performances range from over-acting to being very listless and unimpressive. Simply put, although “Lisa Frankenstein” might manage to get a few chuckles out of some viewers, this is a disappointing dud that should have stayed dead and buried.
Focus Features released “Lisa Frankenstein” in U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024.