Roger Ebert Home

Lisa Frankenstein

When was the last time we got a teen-centric movie that felt like an instant classic?

Outside of this year’s Sundance (which debuted the likes of Megan Park’s “My Old Ass” that you should look forward to), 2018 comes to mind as a quick answer, the year that gave us at least three (and very different) miraculous cinematic staples like “The Hate U Give,” “Eighth Grade” and “Blockers.” Or some might be inclined to throw “Booksmart” in there from the year after, too. One way or the other, let’s agree that it’s been a while.

At least on paper, “Lisa Frankenstein” promised a deliciously twisted flavor with the goods to finally become the next timeless teen flick on this side of the ‘20s. For starters, it’s an intriguingly genre-bending horror-romance-comedy mash-up written by no other than Diablo Cody, a scribe peerlessly tuned into the feminine rhythms of both teenage girls and adult women (considering “Juno” and “Young Adult”) with humor and insight, as well as the scribe of the fiendishly off-kilter flesh-and-blood pleasures of “Jennifer’s Body.” Then there is director Zelda Williams (the daughter of Robin Williams) making her feature debut, a talent raised in the world of comedy. And, finally, we have the wonderful Kathryn Newton (of the aforementioned “Blockers”) in the eponymous role, a reclusive, '80s-era goth girl in Madonna outfits who falls in love with an uncanny creature from the grave and sassily goes off the deep end.

Considering all these earthshattering assets at its disposal, it’s such a bummer that “Lisa Frankenstein” doesn’t quite work on any level—not as a comedy, or a coming-of-age flick, or an outlandish love story, leaving us craving for a lot more of each bloody dish it serves up. The blame should be split evenly between the script and direction here, with the former not pushing it boldly enough in any direction, and the latter merely matching the story’s timidity on the screen with flat visuals lacking a sense of witchy magic.

The tale follows the peculiarly named Lisa Swallows, a misfit who witnessed her mom get barbarically slayed by an ax murderer, only to see her dad get married to the intolerant Janet (Carla Gugino) in the tragedy’s wake. Now, Lisa just spends her days avoiding her popular yet kindly cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) and daydreaming at a nearby cemetery, wishing that she was with the dead occupant of her favorite grave decorated with an old-timey bust. When she makes that wish all too literally after suffering much cruelty in the hands of her school crush and her predatory lab partner, let’s just say that the corpse misunderstands Lisa’s bidding, abandoning his coffin to join her in the land of the living.

You can’t be blamed if you desire some “Beetlejuice”-style specificity and cheekiness across “Lisa Frankenstein”—maybe a suggestively upbeat tune and committedly mischievous performances—or something soulful in the vein of “Edward Scissorhands.” While Cole Sprouse’s smitten monster corpse gives his best shot at a young-and-sad-Johnny-Depp impression—for a while, he’s oddly delightful to watch— the film’s attempts to intertwine its genres fall desperately short of their ambitions. As a result, nothing gooey, bloody or corny sticks in “Lisa Frankenstein,” not even when Lisa and her monster hunt down human appendages to complete the Victorian-era creature’s missing body parts. The quests of a murderous teen in the most hilariously ‘80s outfits since “The Wedding Singer” never felt this unexciting to embark on, even with a more-than-capable Newton at the helm.

Perhaps some credit is still due here—after all, Cody’s script that obviously winks at Mary Shelley’s classic is a rare gamble in today’s landscape, one that has its heart in the right place for all the oddball youngsters longing to be seen and accepted with their eccentricities. Elsewhere, both she and Williams are clearly in synch about an idea of the ‘80s, the golden age of high school films where a movie like “Lisa Frankenstein” wouldn’t have been out of place. But along the way, the duo seems to have forgotten to revive the spirit of the kind of flick they wish to bring to the 21st century. There is a curious datedness, monotony and lack of excitement throughout “Lisa Frankenstein,” that feels dull despite its preferred power-ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon, and colorless in spite of its magenta-heavy production design. In its best moments, Williams’ debut feels very much like its central monster—undead, but with no place to go. It’s a cosmic disappointment.

Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer and critic based in New York. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes to RogerEbert.com, Variety and Time Out New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, among other outlets.

Now playing

Dario Argento Panico
The New Look
Founders Day
Sunrise
Madame Web
The Breaking Ice

Film Credits

Lisa Frankenstein movie poster

Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

Rated PG-13

101 minutes

Cast

Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows

Cole Sprouse as The Creature

Liza Soberano as Taffy

Henry Eikenberry as Michael Trent

Carla Gugino as Janet

Joe Chrest as Dale

Jenna Davis as Lori

Joshua Montes as Vince

Bryce Romero as Doug

Trina LaFargue as Tricia

Paola Andino as Misty

Director

Writer

Latest blog posts

Comments

comments powered by Disqus