Thursday , May 23 2024

Blu-ray Review: ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ – Written by Diablo Cody

Lisa Frankenstein has a few points of interest worth mentioning off the top. First of all, its screenplay was written by Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody (she took the prize for Best Original Screenplay for Juno back in 2007). Second, it’s the feature-length directing debut of Zelda Williams, daughter of the late Robin Williams. She has a few short films to her name. Finally, it stars the always-interesting Kathryn Newton (notably of Big Little Lies) along with Cole Sprouse (the former child star of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and more recently of Riverdale).

Why the laundry list of names? Because there was every reason for Lisa Frankenstein to be a darkly comic winner. Sadly, it misses the mark. Lisa Swallows (Newton) is a high school outcast. Feeling isolated, and bored with her fellow students, Lisa would rather spend time in a cemetery, holding one-way conversations with tombstones. She’s particularly enamored with the grave of a young man who passed away in 1837. She’s basically in love with the idea of what this long-dead man might’ve been like in his lifetime.

Given the film’s title, it’s not terribly surprising when a lightning storm magically reanimates the man, as a mute, stumbling Creature (Sprouse). Before long, Lisa and the Creature develop a relationship.

There’s some interesting family drama that provides highlights unrelated to the horror elements. Part of Lisa’s depression stems, understandably, from her mother’s murder a couple of years earlier. Her dad, Dale (Joe Chrest), remarried. So, Lisa gained a stepmother, the nagging Janet (Carla Gugino), and a stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano).

While Gugino is saddled with the unlikable role of the overbearing stepmom, Soberano (a Filipino star making her Hollywood debut here) is terrific as Taffy. Forget about all the Creature nonsense, the dynamic between Lisa and Taffy could’ve powered a much more endearing movie. Newton and Soberano have great chemistry as two very different personalities who must learn to be family members.

Lisa Frankenstein, rather than being a character piece like Cody’s best films (not only Juno, but Young Adult and Tully), settles for being a Tim Burton ripoff. Anyone familiar with Burton’s distinctive stylings, particularly Edward Scissorhands, will recognize the debt owed here. Maybe Cody’s concept was a bit too much for a rookie director to pull off.

Maybe the tonal shifts were inherent in Cody’s screenplay, however. As Lisa and the Creature figure out how to make their relationship work, a series of brutally amoral events occur that makes it difficult to sympathize with them. The Creature is a reanimated corpse, making it easier to accept some of his violent activities. But Lisa, who is initially presented as a sensitive intellectual type, turns out to be something of a sociopath. Without getting into spoiler territory, some of her actions are reprehensible.

Less obvious than the ripping off of Tim Burton’s visuals and overall tone, Lisa Frankenstein brings to mind an obscure but remarkable film from over 20 years ago. Written and directed by Lucky McKee, May (2002) is a haunting horror creation about a young woman who is also an outcast. While by no means specifically analogous to Lisa, May is recommendable as an alternative with similar themes (namely, the “creation” of a romantic companion).

The big difference is that May is an introspective, mature piece that makes Cody and Williams’ film seem like Romper Room by comparison. Yes, Lisa Frankenstein is a “knowing” tribute, for lack of a better word, to much better films. But it’s so devoid of originality, it’s worth trying to redirect curious viewers to a better and thematically-related film like May.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray collector’s edition of Lisa Frankenstein boasts deleted scenes, a gag reel, three featurettes, and an audio commentary track with director Zelda Williams.

About The Other Chad

An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."

Check Also

Ben is Back

Austin Film Fest Film Review: ‘Ben is Back’ will Shake You Up

Ben is Back is one of those films that break rules and still entertains. Entertain …