Movie Review | 'Lisa Frankenstein' 

click to enlarge Cole Sprouse as 'The Creature' and Kathryn Newton as Lisa.

MICHELE K. SHORT

Cole Sprouse as 'The Creature' and Kathryn Newton as Lisa.

Cult classics are raised, but rarely born. It takes time to ascend to the level of a niche fan favorite and become a movie a small (but mighty) group of people constantly rewatches. Years after a movie's release, whispers can become roars if a film's following suddenly begins to grow. "Lisa Frankenstein," the latest film from screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”) just might be the next movie to reach that stature.

Set in the 1980s, the horror-comedy is the directorial debut of Zelda Williams (daughter of the late Robin Williams). She is working from a screenplay penned by Cody, one of those rare writers whose work seems ready to be a cult classic. Cody's "Jennifer's Body" has achieved such a level — and the gleefully strange "Lisa Frankenstein," while unlikely to set the box office on fire, might also find a larger audience down the line.

Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa, a high school student trying to navigate life after the brutal loss of her mother. Her father (Joe Chrest) quickly remarries the uptight and rarely kind Janet (Carla Gugino), whose daughter Taffy (Liza Soberano) is one of Lisa's classmates. Lisa and Taffy run in different social circles (well, Lisa doesn't have much of a social circle at all), but have created a nice bond as half-sisters. Lisa doesn't fit in at parties like Taffy does and spends most of her time at the gravesite of a young nineteenth-century man. Through a series of ‘only-in-the-movies’ events, he comes back to life (credited as The Creature, played by Cole Sprouse).

If the set up for "Lisa Frankenstein" sounds like a weird riff on the classic Mary Shelley tale, the set-up doesn't even scratch the surface of what the movie has in store. What Lisa and her reanimated corpse companion do once they become accustomed to each other's company runs the gamut of funny, shocking, over-the-top and occasionally horrifying. Williams takes on a movie with a good amount of tonal shifts which occasionally trip over each other, but shows a steady hand for a first-time filmmaker.


Cody's screenplay is packed with her signature touches as a writer. Like her breakout film, the instantly quotable and highly awarded "Juno,” "Lisa Frankenstein" is filled with offhand jokes that don't require a comedic setup. Cody has always demonstrated how a simple line can cut through, especially when it's least expected.

But "Lisa Frankenstein" is not a movie where everything works, and sometimes the rules of its own universe don't always make sense. For everything that is strong about Cody's screenplay — and it truly can be laugh-out-loud funny — sometimes the story takes a distractingly convenient turn just to move the plot forward. When a movie is filled with big ideas and ambitious swings, taking a shortcut in the plot can become even more noticeable.

The movie's infectious spirit is its biggest asset — even when it fumbles, Williams’s snappy directing pacing keeps the movie alive. There's nothing like "Lisa Frankenstein" out in theaters, and it's a movie that’s begging for a packed house on a Friday night.

“Lisa Frankenstein” is currently playing in local theaters.

Matt Passantino is a contributing writer to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].
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