Lisa Frankenstein is a lightweight bit of ’80s horror comedy nostalgia

Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Focus Features
SPARK OF LOVE: Eighties goth high schooler Lisa (Kathryn Newton) raises a Victorian-era corpse (Cole Sprouse) from the grave, in Lisa Frankenstein, screening in local theaters.

Zelda Williams (Kappa Kappa Die) directs this Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult) script about Lisa (Kathryn Newton), a maudlin high schooler whose mother died in an ax attack and who now lives with her father, Dale (Joe Chrest); Dale’s new wife, Janet (Carla Gugino); and Janet’s teenage daughter, Taffy (Liza Soberano). In a new town and new high school, Lisa struggles to fit in … until through some cosmic twist, she raises a young man (Cole Sprouse) from the grave who died in the 19th century and seems to imbue Lisa with new confidence. (101 min.)

Glen: Diablo Cody is a talented and clever writer, but I think she peaked at Juno. Like Jennifer’s Body, she’s again trying her hand at horror comedy, and while the film has its charms—in particular its winking 1989 setting with accompanying hairstyles, clothing, and music—it doesn’t quite gel. It also doesn’t really give itself anywhere to go, and the ending left me underwhelmed. That said, it has its strengths. Gugino is terrific as Lisa’s bitchy, judgmental new mom, and Soberano shines as Lisa’s new sister who’s genuinely nice, albeit vacant and trying her best to help Lisa fit in. It’s essentially a love story, but before we get there, Lisa has some lessons to learn in part by pining for Michael (Henry Eikenberry), the handsome editor of the school newspaper. Expect a few good laughs, but overall, there’s a reason this film showed up during the pre-Oscars dumping ground.

Anna: Yes, seeing the Conair hair crimper and Rave hairspray in the opening shots was a great dose of nostalgia, one the film manages to carry through its entirety. Whether it’s AstroTurf on her stepsister’s dashboard or Janet’s bowl of cottage cheese and canned peaches, the film has late-’80s charm all over it. Unfortunately, that’s the best thing about it. Cody has a good eye for crafting films that appeal to the basic familiar feelings within us, and with Juno she also had the benefit of a truly likable main character. In Lisa Frankenstein, Lisa starts off as a bit of a mousy introvert trying to navigate life without her mom and pining after the hot editor of the school paper. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say she winds up a pretty different character. While her new wild side is fun, it felt like the character didn’t just go off the rails—she burned down the train station too. It wasn’t as endearing as a film like Warm Bodies. It just didn’t have the spark of magic to make it memorable.

Glen: The ’80s and early-’90s horror comedies it emulates are frankly much better than this homage, and Cody is sometimes too clever for her own good. For instance, the malfunctioning tanning bed as a stand-in for Dr. Frankenstein’s lightning-fueled reanimator to reinvigorate her dead “boyfriend” was a tad groan-inducing. It’s not like I hated the film or thought it was a total waste of time. It was a fun, lightweight little romp, but we’ve seen so many amazing films in the run-up to awards season that this feels like a mouthful of powdered sugar—momentarily sweet but soon forgotten.

Anna: Exactly. Whereas Juno is a film I will watch countless times, I don’t see Lisa Frankenstein becoming anything more than a one-time viewing, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a pretty good time watching it. I loved stepsister Taffy—she’s a pretty, popular cheerleader who generally would be a jerk, but she’s so kind and accepting and sweet to her new sis. I think this film’s getting a pretty fair rating with a 6.6 on IMDb and a higher audience score than critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Definitely worth a matinee if you want to see some great late ’80s fashion and hair shine on the big screen.

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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