#REVIEW: “LISA FRANKENSTEIN”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Lisa (Kathryn Newton) is a Goth introvert who spends her free time doodling in an abandoned graveyard. She does not get along with her new family and a freak storm has just re-animated a Corpse (Cole Sprouse) she may have been crushing on.
This is the set-up for LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a movie that takes place in 1989 and gleefully homages the decade’s eternally popular coming-of-age, self discovery genre by way of Tim Burton’s brand of macabre. The pastels, the outrageous outfits and hairdos, the power ballads, the gee-whiz artificiality of a small town still pretending it is the 1950’s; every element you can imagine is here for better or worse, with many of the Film’s best jokes leaning into the inherent ridiculousness that comes alongside that cultural baggage. Visually speaking, the style is pretty stellar.
Unfortunately, the Film around that style is compromised by Oscar-winning Writer Diablo Cody’s Screenplay. It is a mess, plain and simple. Ideas are introduced and dropped rapidly, a plethora of characters are either underutilized or useless, subplots are left unresolved, and the Film’s core romance between Lisa and the “The Creature” (as he is referred to in the Credits) does not come together nearly as eloquently as it should. Worse, the entire Third Act feels too rushed and cobbled together. Cody does sprinkle a few fun moments into LISA FRANKENSTEIN, but it lacks the subversiveness Feminist edge it wants to achieve and is missing the sharpness of her previous Scripts like Juno and Jennifer’s Body. There is a chance that some material was removed in order to achieve a PG-13 rating – at least that may be why one pivotal moment involving an axe late in the Film feels so hacked to pieces – but that does not explain all of its messiness.
Thankfully, the trio of performances from Newton, Sprouse and Hollywood newcomer Liza Soberano (who plays Lisa’s stepsister Taffy), do a terrific job making up for the script’s shortcomings.
Newton continues her streak of commanding performances, sinking her teeth into Lisa and transforming her into the Goth queen she deserves to be. She jumps headfirst into the chaos, alternating between the Comedy and the Drama with wonderful precision. Newton benefits the most from Cody’s sarcastic wit and carries the Film fearlessly. Sprouse is equally delightful in a mostly wordless, almost entirely physical performance as The Creature. His comic timing is impeccable and the way he conveys emotion through grunts and movements is exceptional. I was consistently impressed by how captivating Sprouse is here, and his ease of being able to create palpably mute chemistry with Newton.
Soberano is LISA FRANKENSTEIN’s secret weapon however, and is the beating heart of the Film. Her entire arc is being the preppy cheerleader focusing on everyone else’s happiness (especially for her outspoken stepsister) and she practically soars in the role. She comes in and out often, yet always brings a warmth and understanding that offsets the Film’s most absurdist moments. You can genuinely feel how missed her presence is whenever she is not on screen.
I really dug the look and feel of LISA FRANKENSTEIN, just as much as I liked the performances from Newton, Sprouse and especially Soberano. They all deserved a stronger Script to work from rather than the convoluted one here. If Cody’s writing was a bit better streamlined and cleaner, the Film could have been the wild coming-of-age film you were expecting, rather than the disappointing genre pic it is all too content being.
Universal Pictures Canada unearth LISA FRANKENSTEIN on Friday, February 9, 2024.