Moving Pictures
Feb 08, 2024, 06:27AM

Pink Slash

Lisa Frankenstein is a messy but witty movie from Diablo Cody.

Lisa frankenstein is edward scissorhands all over again nero ai photo x4 scaled 1.webp?ixlib=rails 2.1

Fifteen years ago, Diablo Cody, fresh off her Oscar for writing Juno, authored the screenplay for Jennifer’s Body, a teen horror comedy with Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox. A flop at the time, Jennifer’s Body has since been reclaimed as a classic. Now, Cody has returned to the teen horror comedy genre, with a film that might not take nearly as long to gain widespread appreciation. The film is called Lisa Frankenstein, and while it’s messy and full of awkward tonal shifts, it’s a witty and well-acted film.

The film was written by Cody and directed by Zelda Williams, the daughter of Robin, who’s making her feature directorial debut. Despite the title, Lisa Frankenstein is not another gender-flipped riff on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, especially since we just got that, with the Oscar-nominated Poor Things. Instead, it’s a sharp homage to the 1980s teen movie canon—mostly Heathers, Weird Science and the macabre early work of Tim Burton. Someone gets reanimated, but the film’s closest aesthetic tie to the Frankenstein tradition is that Lisa’s 1980s hair at times grows to Bride of Frankenstein proportions.

Set in 1989, and full of era-specific clothes, hairstyles and music, Lisa Frankenstein stars perpetual teen actress Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows, an awkward new girl whose fashion tastes tend towards goth, at least since the fairly recent murder of her mother. She’s new to town and living with her dad, nightmarish stepmom (Carla Gugino) and cheerleader stepsister (Liza Soberano). She struggles fitting in in her small town, until a lightning strike reanimates a 19th-century corpse (onetime Disney Channel star Cole Sprouse), who’s soon secretly living in her closet.

Plenty of blood and mayhem follow, as does unlikely romance, at least after the suitor does a stint in the zombie friend zone. There’s the fantastic idea that the zombie repeatedly lies in a tanning bed, and each time he does it, he more resembles Edward Scissorhands-era Johnny Depp. The film also shares with Heathers a cavalier attitude about the grisly murders of teenagers. The tonal shifts are handled clumsily, and the film drops the thread of Lisa’s father (Joe Chrest), who suffers a shocking series of personal tragedies but deals with them almost entirely off screen.

But the performances are outstanding. Kathryn Newton, in the lead role, looks a lot like a star, believably playing a 1980s character even though she was born in 1997. Liza Soberano also makes an impression as her sister. And Sprouse brings plenty of charisma to what amounts to a non-speaking role.

It’s notable that Newton, who’s 26, has played a teenager for a long time. This goes back to the first season of Big Little Lies in 2017, when she played Reese Witherspoon’s daughter and was trying to auction off her virginity. Newton was once again a high school senior trying to lose her virginity in Blockers, which came out in 2018, and she’s doing that again here, six years later. (Newton’s Blockers co-star, Gideon Adlon, was also still playing a sexually-forward teen, last month in Miller’s Girl, although the third of their trio, Geraldine Viswanathan, at least plays an adult in the upcoming Drive Away Dolls.)


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