Lisa Frankenstein

Lisa Frankenstein offers a creative new take on Mary Shelley’s beloved tale, using it to skewer adolescent life. Writer Diablo Cody (Juno) and director Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) make a great team. What they’ve concocted is fresh, funny, and consistently surprising. I went in expecting a cutesy “girl falls for undead person” rom-com along the lines of Warm Bodies. Instead, the movie is an edgy exploration of a young woman’s blossoming, which comes in a demented fashion.

The story is set in 1989. Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is an awkward teen girl who lives with her father Dale (Joe Chrest), cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Lisa Soberano), and nasty stepmom Janet (the hilarious Carla Gugino). Her idea of fun is hanging out in an abandoned cemetery, where she tends to the grave of a long-deceased young man. That grave is struck by lightning during a freak storm, causing “the Creature” (Cole Sprouse) to rise from the dead. After cleaning him up a little, Lisa uses the reanimated corpse to spice up her life by getting revenge on foes and making advances toward her school crush. The Creature is missing a few body parts, leading her to seek replacements for him at the same time.

Cody’s script cleverly transforms Dr. Victor Frankenstein into an adolescent girl. Instead of a mad scientist playing God, Lisa is a regular person struggling to fit in. Collecting appendages for her “monster” is merely the price she must pay for the newfound purpose he brings to her life. One of the best traits of the movie is that, as her self-confidence grows, a slightly wicked side emerges. Lisa does things that aren’t always likeable. Hitting that note gives Lisa Frankenstein an identity of its own.

Many of the movie’s laughs come from its satire of high school drama. Familiar “types” are introduced, only to defy our expectations. For example, the “nerd” who crushes on Lisa isn’t a well-intentioned nice kid, he’s a horndog with no compunctions about making his move when the opportunity arises. Lisa’s own journey from frump to hottie is similarly subversive. Instead of learning to be true to herself – as Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink did – she takes several wrong lessons from the image change. Cody’s script is really smart, and Williams creates just the right quirky tone to pay it off.

Kathryn Newton excels in the role, capturing the character’s evolving eccentricities without turning her into someone obnoxious. She also delivers the movie’s ‘80s-related jokes with bullseye aim. A nice chemistry exists between the actress and Cole Sprouse. His part has no dialogue. It’s all grunting and stiff body movements. He does physical comedy extremely well. The relationship between this offbeat couple has to be credible for the story to work. Newton and Sprouse both bring their A-games.

The film Lisa Frankenstein is most reminiscent of is Edward Scissorhands. It doesn’t quite evoke the same emotional reaction as Tim Burton’s 1990 blockbuster, perhaps because unlike Edward, the Creature doesn’t speak. Room also exists to push the core ideas even further. In spots, you can feel the movie restraining itself to hold on to a PG-13 rating. Those are small gripes, however, considering how vivacious and witty this little gem is overall. The love and care Zelda Williams and her team put into it is palpable.

Scroll down for a look at the Blu-ray features.

out of four

Lisa Frankenstein is rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, sexual material, language, sexual assault, teen drinking, and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

Blu-ray Features:

Lisa Frankenstein comes to Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition package that includes a digital code, along with the following bonus features:

Deleted Scenes - Five brief sequences, most of which are just trims of what’s already in the film. The most notable shows Lisa telling the Creature what a good friend he is.

Gag Reel - A two-and-a-half-minute assembly of the stars flubbing lines and cracking each other up. What comes across here is that Newton and Sprouse clearly had fun working together. Their off-screen chemistry is as palpable as the onscreen type.

An Electric Connection - A 5-minute making-of feature in which Newton, Sprouse, Williams, and Cody elaborate on the story’s themes. Sometimes pieces like this are fluff, but they all have useful insights on what the movie attempts to accomplish.

Resurrecting the ‘80s - Cast and crew discuss recreating the late 1980s for the movie, including use of color and ways to reference the decade without making it seem like they were mocking it.

A Dark Comedy Duo - This segment, which runs about five minutes, focuses on the humor inherent in the Lisa/Creature relationship. Writer Diablo Cody mentions that she didn’t set out specifically to write a comedy but couldn’t stop finding funny ideas.

Two theatrical trailers round out the package. Lisa Frankenstein is a unique and offbeat movie that deserves to find an appreciative audience at home. Click here to order a copy from Amazon.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan