Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

FEBRUARY 8, 2023


Hello! I am a 43 year old straight male who didn't think Lisa Frankenstein was particularly good.

Normally I don't bother describing myself in a review, but I feel here it might be useful, because I want it to be clear that I am first to admit I'm not the target demographic for this particular movie, and maybe you simply won't care that an old white dude thinks about it. But that said, considering it's Diablo Cody's first return to the horror/comedy genre since Jennifer's Body*, which I enjoyed quite a bit (with some reservations), it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that I could have enjoyed this more than I did. And I did like it at times, so it's not a disaster, it's just... *off*. And as a result, disappointing.

The plot is perfectly fine and has loads of potential. Kathryn Newton, still playing high schoolers 12 years after Paranormal Activity 4, stars as Lisa, a goth-y outcast who works at a tailor shop (sewing skill foreshadowing is a rare but admirable note in a Frankenstein movie) and longs to be dead like the 18th century guy whose grave she visits. One night a convenient lightning bolt wakes the guy up, at which point he beelines for her house. After a few "WTF?" moments she has him shower and puts him in some fresh clothes, and he becomes her protector/ servant/ confidante. And every now and then the two of them kill people who annoyed her in order to secure a body part to replace something that's MIA on him (his hand, an ear, his... well, spoiler).

As with her previous horror-com, Cody has a weird tendency to introduce completely random plot points that seem to suggest a more fleshed out narrative, only to just shrug them off. In Jennifer's Body it was the thing with the orange balls/waterfall "portal" and the school's gym becoming a swamp. Here it's the backstory for Lisa, as we learn her mother was killed by a Ghostface type masked slasher a year before, leaving her nearly mute. The way it's presented suggests it will play a part in the present day (i.e. the killer will come back, and/or be revealed to be someone she knew), but nope. Her mom was murdered by a masked slasher and I guess he didn't do anything else after that. Why have something so specific if there's nothing further to it? Why not just kill her in a car accident or something? Similarly, what happened to this guy for him to lose a few body parts? It's bizarre Lisa never once thinks to hit up the library and see what she can learn about her new boyfriend, even if to confirm he wasn't, you know, the same kind of murderer who killed her mom.

The weirdest part is how casual she is about the rising body count. She was supposedly traumatized by an earlier act of violence, but now seems pretty blase about doing it herself? It's just a really odd disconnect, and (also like JB) the film's third act is rushed through without any genuine resolutions to these plot threads. Lisa never shows any real remorse for their murders, including that of someone who did absolutely nothing wrong (earlier she goes after a guy who tried coercing her into sex, so we can "go girl!" that one, but this other guy... nope. And he gets it worse!), so it's not even easy to root for her after a while. Like you can have all the weird plot points you want, but if the character development is equally haphazard, there's a problem.

One thing that's not botched, and actually quite endearing, is that the only (living) person who genuinely cares for Lisa is her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). Even her own dad is kind of zoned out when she tries to talk to him, but Taffy supports her, tries to get her out of her shell, etc. Normally a stepsister is just another thorn in the side of an introverted character like Lisa, so to see them get along and care about each other was refreshing. That said, Carla Gugino as the stepmother is so cartoonishly mean that it more than makes up for Taffy's refusal to be a stereotype, but far be it from me to decry the sight of Ms. Gugino chewing some scenery. She can do whatever she wants.

Much has been made of the film's 1989 setting, but I never really saw a purpose for it other than, I suppose, having an easy excuse to make pop culture references. Gugino fretting about her Precious Moments figurines, the family going to see Look Who's Talking, a gag about the Sports Illustrated football phone (30 years after Wayne's World 2 already did a better one, but whatever)... there aren't as many as some other period pieces focused on the era, but there are enough to establish it even if you ignore the clothing and hairstyles, which are all on point (take it from me, an Old who was actually around then). Weirdly, the movie takes a while to firmly establish that it's the '80s, and given the Tim Burton influence, one could just assume that it was just being retro with its production design as a choice (sort of like how Edward Scissorhands LOOKS like the 1950s/60s, but clearly isn't since they have VCRs and such) instead of using it to specify a timeframe.

As for the Monster, he's delightful. Cole Sprouse is pretty much mute, using his facial expressions and body language to do the bulk of his communicating, and he does a fantastic job. I also liked the makeup; since Lisa starts to fall in love with him it's obviously not too grotesque, but it's also clearly monstrous - a tricky balancing act that they pulled off well. The PG-13 dictates we don't see much of his carnage, but one moment is played via shadow and it's kind of amazing, the closest we will get to seeing *that* in a teen-friendly movie. And I definitely appreciated the REO Speedwagon usage; I may in fact be the only person in the audience who actually listened to "Can't Fight This Feeling" earlier in the day just for my own aural pleasure (though that's another weird thing about the movie - Lisa's a goth and has a Bauhaus poster in her room, but the soundtrack itself doesn't have much of such things. There are more Yacht Rock staples than anything you'd hear as house music while waiting for The Cure to take the stage).

And to be fair the humor tends to hit more than miss (which was also the case in Body, it's just not as consistently funny), focusing on the unlikely romance more than jokes (or horror, but I expected that much). Had the characterization and plot been a little more fleshed out and less uneven, it could have been an easy film to recommend to all, not just (for the most part) to teen girls having sleepovers. But even on that level, it sends some weird messages to the impressionable, and even that would be OK if the movie just went full throttle into darker territory. Instead it basically just edges for 95 minutes, always pulling back whenever it feels like it's going to finally kick into high gear and get really memorable, or at least commit to a tone. I don't know if Cody's script had to be sanitized or budget cuts resulted in chopping some grander ideas, but it ultimately just never really came to life for me. It's cute, and intermittently charming, but seems to settle for being "fine", making it feel disappointing considering the talent involved. Great animated opening title sequence though.

What say you?

*Diablo Cody has said that the films exist in the same universe, though there are no ties that I noticed. Also since this film takes place twenty years before that one (and in a different town to boot) I'm not even sure why she bothered saying so, other than to perhaps drum up interest.


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget