Film review: ‘Lisa Frankenstein’
Zelda Williams, daughter of the late great Robin Williams, debuts as director in “Lisa Frankenstein.” With a crackling screenplay from celebrated writer Diablo Cody, she skillfully delivered a confident horror comedy retelling of “Frankenstein.” Williams is also half-Filipina because her mother, Marsha Garces, is of Filipino and Finnish descent. Yet the film boasts another Filipino connection that has excited the country since the cast announcement.
“Lisa Frankenstein” opens with a silent animated exposition about the life and death of a brokenhearted man (Cole Sprouse) in the Victorian Era. Cut to 1989, we meet Lisa (the dependable Kathryn Newton), an awkward goth girl who witnessed the tragic death of her mother and now lives with her father (Joe Chrest) and his insufferable new wife (the formidable Carla Gugino).
Taffy, her kindhearted stepsister (Liza Soberano), makes life a little easier. One night, she finally acquiesced to her sister’s constant plea to step out of her comfort zone and attend a rager. Lisa could not be more pleasantly surprised as she met her crush (Henry Eikenberry). But a PCP-laced drink led to a whirlwind of disasters that ended with the reanimated corpse of a brokenhearted man in her bedroom.
The cast is excellent, but the ladies rule the roost. Newton turns in one of her best performances. Gugino is a riot as the ultimate big-haired, evil stepmother. Making the most of a career breakthrough, Soberano turned in a star-making performance in her international debut. There is a phone call scene where she is describing her missing mother to the authorities, and her delivery of one of the funniest lines in the film is pitch-perfect.
Diablo Cody writes about difficult women and her latest, Lisa Frankenstein, comes from the same mold as her previous characters including cheerleader-turned-succubus Jennifer (“Jennifer’s Body”) and the miserable former prom queen Mavis (“Young Adult”). Exploring the lives of difficult women is her area of expertise—and hellish teenagers is a specialization. Upon befriending the Creature, Lisa develops a killer confidence (emphasis on “killer”) that pushed her not just outside the comfort zone but past acceptable societal norms.
One can look at the process of rebuilding the Creature into something more human as a projection of Lisa’s urge to fit in. For good measure, Lisa becomes more monstrous as the Creature transforms into something more human. Societal pressure is the real monster all along.
“Lisa Frankenstein” is an engaging and bonkers “coming of rage” tale inspired by silent cinema, classic monster films and ‘80s teen flicks. The soundtrack features interesting covers of popular hits of the decade, including one of the more memorable uses of the iconic cornball power ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
I must also commend the production design that captured the pastel mania of the decade and the inclusion of one of the decade’s iconic relics, the shell table lamp. Chopped organs are one of the least romantic things I can think of, but this “Lisa Frankenstein” is a perfect film for the month of love—because love makes monsters of us all.