Lisa Frankenstein

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Lisa Frankenstein
dir Zelda Williams
scr Diablo Cody
prd Diablo Cody, Mason Novick
with Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Carla Gugino, Joe Chrest, Henry Eikenberry, Bryce Romero, Joey Bree Harris, Charlie Talbert, Jenna Davis, Trina LaFargue, Joshua Montes
release US 16.Feb.24,
UK 1.Mar.24
24/US Focus 1h41

newton sprouse gugino

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Lisa Frankenstein
Mixing clever dialog and witty jokes with a very silly plot, this teen comedy has enough laugh-out-loud moments to make it worth a look. And the late 1980s setting adds enjoyable musical beats and visual gags. But the movie never quite comes together in a way that would make it memorable, so as the events spiral in increasingly corny directions, it becomes tricky to remain engaged with the characters.
In 1989, high school senior Lisa (Newton) is still traumatised by her mother's violent death, but her perky new stepsister Taffy (Soberano) is trying to cheer her up. Obsessed with death, Lisa's only connection is with the tombstone of a long-dead teen (Sprouse) who is resurrected by a freak bolt of lightening. But bringing him properly to life requires some spare parts and some time in Taffy's malfunctioning tanning bed. As these secret activities boost Lisa's self-confidence, she decides to pursue her school crush (Eikenberry). And she doesn't notice the creature's growing jealousy.
Characters have plenty of spark, and their knowing banter gives the dialog a snappy and very smart comical zing. This extends to Taffy's mother (Gugino), a smiling control freak who married Lisa's mild-mannered father (Chrest) while he was still dazed by grief. And the shifting dynamics at school feature a nice twist on the usual mean-girls formula. But while the period setting offers some knowing pastiche, most notably in Lisa's Madonna-style makeover, it is never put into a context that might make it meaningful.

Performances across the board are so broad that very few characters register as particularly believable. We root for Lisa, despite her often startling transgressions, simply because the story is told through her perspective. Newton nicely depicts the way Lisa blossoms from an awkward loner into a take-no-prisoners vixen, even if the film focusses more on the outward image more than her inner shift. Sprouse has some fun as the corpse brought gradually back to life. And Soberano manages to emerge as the most likeable role.

Because the zany antics are so heightened, the movie pushes the more outrageous comedy at the expense of the underlying thoughts and feelings that would have given the story some real bite. This leaves the film entertaining while it lasts, and Cody's dialog is peppered with wonderfully amusing and very smart observations. This helps us go along with the narrative even when it begins to feel simplistic and unmemorable, leaving the film as a bit of fluffy fun.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 21.Feb.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall