‘Lisa Frankenstein’ Review: Digs up the Comedy, but Doesn’t Go Deep Enough

Kevin Taft reviews the flawed but consistently amusing Lisa Frankenstein from director Zelda Williams and writer Diablo Cody.
User Rating: 6.5

A giggle-inducing morbid comedy, the new teen horror comedy Lisa Frankenstein works with its banter and winning lead, but it fails to dig up anything meaningful between the gags.

Directed by Zelda Williams (the late Robin Williams’ daughter) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body), this wacky, ‘80s-set take on the Frankenstein myth harkens back to the silly, low-budget comedies of the time it evokes.

The always impressive Kathryn Newton (Freaky) stars as high-school student Lisa Swallows, a nerdy outcast who spends her days doing wax rubbings at the local cemetery and reading old poetry to her favorite deceased guy. Having suffered the loss of her mother in a brutal home invasion, Lisa is a bit lost now that her dim father has remarried. Lisa not only has a new stepmother, Janet (Carla Gugino), but a new step-sister as well.

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Janet is clearly a step-monster, although her new sister Taffy (Liza Soberano) is a little kinder despite being in the popular crowd, and the apple of her mother’s eye. This doesn’t help Lisa’s moody demeanor, which is why she clings to horror movies, bands like The Cure, and hanging out in the cemetery.

But all that changes when her favorite grave is struck by lightning, and the inhabitant climbs out and stumbles into her life. Decrepit, moldy, and literally falling apart, The Creature (played with Johnny Depp muteness by Riverdale’s Cole Sprouse) attaches himself to Lisa, who quickly takes a shine to him despite his gnarly appearance.

Soon enough, he’s helping her find her confident, sexy groove, and she is helping him clean up and learn the ways of his new world. But something is missing. Literally. In fact, a few things – like a hand and an ear. So, with the help of Lisa and her newfound persona, they go about getting those items, just…. not exactly how she was expecting.

You see, The Creature isn’t that concerned with life and death and doesn’t really mind knocking off someone for a body part he might need. This horrifies Lisa… until it doesn’t. So begins a weird, gothic Bonnie & Clyde story that will probably not end well.

Or does it?

Cody’s script certainly has some great one-liners and clever plot shenanigans, making it a winsome, morbid delight. Newton continues to prove herself a star and truly a great comic actress. Cole Sprouse doesn’t say much as The Creature, and it’s clear Cody and Williams are attempting to make their film make this generation’s Edward Scissorhands, so his lumbering persona harkens back to the silent confusion of Tim Burton’s iconic character.

But maybe despite how amusing the whole affair is, questions that arise throughout are quickly pushed aside with a quip here or a goofy set piece. Sometimes, the sloppy editing kills the comedy, and it never really seems to know what its story is. Questions kept coming up for me:

Why Lisa’s father remarried so soon (and to an awful woman) isn’t explored enough to make it meaningful. The violence that ensues is met with a shrug from Lisa, which starts to make her character unlikeable (and it’s more perplexing, given that an axe murderer killed her mother). We get no information about The Creature’s former life, which would have been something nerdy Lisa would have investigated (and give us an explanation for the lack of one of his appendages). Plus, the choices Lisa makes toward the movie’s end are questionable. Not to mention, the last few minutes are a bit of a head-scratcher as previous explanations for how The Creature was able to function don’t translate to the final scene.

I kept thinking, what was Cody trying to say with this script? What was her point, and what did Lisa really learn?

These might seem like nit-picky complaints, but the movie has so much going for it that it’s disappointing that Cody and Williams couldn’t fully land it. This could have been a ‘Scissorhands’ for the Gen Z crowd. Instead, it feels like a better-written version of the forgotten teen comedy from 1993 called My Boyfriend’s Back.

Still, Lisa Frankenstein is continually entertaining, despite its flaws and losing steam at the end. It’s certainly an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, as I did find myself laughing a lot.

This might not be a total graveyard smash, but if you’re looking for a mindless good time, this isn’t a horrific way to go.

Lisa Frankenstein is now playing in theaters.

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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