Thursday, February 15, 2024

Lisa Frankenstein: A Review



I am mercifully not nostalgic enough for the 1980s to want to see something like Lisa Frankenstein. Unsure if it is a comedy with horror elements or a funny horror film, Lisa Frankenstein does have some good elements that push the film hopelessly down.

Our heroine, Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) has some goth girl elements but is not a pure goth. Her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) is a pleasant, cheerful cheerleader who is genuinely fond of her sister. Taffy does her best to get Lisa to mix with her classmates, but Lisa has her heart only for two people. One of them is Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry), the brooding, hunky school literary magazine editor. The other is a dead man, a Victorian buried at a bachelor's cemetery.

At the disastrous house party where nerd Doug (Bryce Romero) puts his hand on her breast and her hand on his penis, she flees, inebriated and confused, into that cemetery and makes a wish that her Victorian man be with her. As the song goes, lightning strikes and we get The Creator (Cole Sprouse). He is a shambles, even for a corpse, but Lisa hides him out. 

It is not long before Lisa's wicked stepmother Janet (Carla Gugino) threatens to send her away. Fortunately, the Creature is there to save her by perhaps accidentally killing Janet. He can even get Janet's ear to replace his missing one, as Lisa is a skilled seamstress. The Creator is also missing two other body parts: a hand and a penis. Will Lisa find she can kill two birds with one stone. Will others discover her dangerous necrophile liaisons? 

At first, I thought Lisa Frankenstein could squeak by as being slightly better than something like Mean Girls. However, as I thought on it, I think that if given the choice between the two, I would opt for the musical than the non-musical. It is a shame because there are a couple of things in Lisa Frankenstein that do work.

First is Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows. She reminded me of a young Helena Bonham Carter in both look and mannerism. She was doing her best to sell the comedy aspect of Lisa Frankenstein, playing the part as if she were in a quirkier film than the one she ended up in. I do not think that anyone will ever hear REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight This Feeling again in the same way after her overtly bombastic manner. 

While Newton was good, for me the clear standout is Soberano as Taffy. In perhaps the only positive element in Diablo Cody's screenplay, Taffy is not the stereotypical wicked stepsister. She's actually quite pleasant and relatable. Friendly, genuinely fond of Lisa to where she stands up for her to both her mother and her classmates, it is nice to see a film where the stepsiblings are actually good people. It's a credit to Soberano's performance that I ended up wanting the film to be from her perspective: the sweet girl caught up in Lisa's looniness. 

As such, the "twist" involving her and Michael seems forced. Moreover, whatever Michael's flaws, I do not think he merited his fate. Taffy certainly did not merit her fate. Here she is: a pleasant, happy-go-lucky girl who genuinely cares for Lisa (though to be fair, apt to say mildly insulting things). She, through Lisa's actions, unknowingly loses her mother, sees her lover hacked and is left deeply traumatized by the entire ordeal. That she can genuinely grieve Lisa along with her stepfather Dale (Joe Chrest) is a credit to how Taffy was not just the better character but the better person.

Sprouse, I imagine, wants to break more and more away from his Disney days of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Unfortunately, he did not have much to do, as The Creator was inarticulate until the very end. Perhaps to his credit, he did have better facial expressions when he started becoming more human. However, it did not afford him much of an opportunity to show if he could do anything more.

Going back a bit to how Lisa Frankenstein went after people with almost a vindictive manner, I find that Doug too did not deserve his fate. We see him only twice: when he manhandles Lisa and when he is lured to his end. In no way would I endorse Doug's behavior of feeling Lisa up or putting her hand on his penis. However, he was drunk and not in full command of himself. Again, while his behavior is wrong, it does not merit his fate. 

Lisa Frankenstein wants to echo such films as Heathers or perhaps Beetlejuice (the Tim Burton influence being quite strong, especially with the silhouette opening). The difference though is that the people murdered in Heathers were almost all awful, making their ends if not morally right at least not horrifying or cruel. Lisa Frankenstein, conversely, seems to hit people who are not awful enough to celebrate their ends. You cannot empathize with that kind of cruelty, especially if you push your film to want you to like Lisa.

Why Doug says that his actions were "not Christian" seems a strange thing to say given that he was not strictly speaking, apologizing for his actions. 

Lisa Frankenstein might have some good ideas juggling about, but it does not work. This is especially true of the directing. I am at a loss to understand why Zelda Williams was given such a project for her feature film debut. It is hard to imagine that being Robin Williams' daughter did not help in some way. 

Yes, people in the theater that I saw Lisa Frankenstein were laughing when Michael's dick was cut off to On the Wings of Love. I was not. I was not so much horrified or appalled as I was perturbed by that attempt at forced humor. I, again, got lost in logic, thinking that the penis would no longer function even if Lisa successfully sewed it on. I leave it to you to decide if seeing what is technically necrophilia counts as comedy or not.

Lisa Frankenstein could have been good. I did like Newton and Soberano. As it stands however, the film did not win me over. At least it is better than Argylle, so that is a plus in its favor.

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