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Movie Review: Lisa Frankenstein




By Bob Garver

 

I had high hopes for “Lisa Frankenstein,” whose trailers promised a lead performance from Kathryn Newton (of the gleefully twisted body-switch horror-comedy “Freaky”) and a sick sense of humor that might actually be jarring in a fun way. Then I learned the truth: the movie still stars Kathryn Newton, but it’s rated PG-13.

Ugh, what’s with all these movies going for the wrong ratings lately? The R-rated “Anyone But You” didn’t need all that crudeness, it should have aimed at the PG-13 crowd. The PG-13 “Argylle” celebrates blowing away bad guys way too much for anything other than an R to make sense. “Lisa Frankenstein” doesn’t have nearly as high a body count as “Argylle” (in fact, I think some deaths may technically have to be subtracted), but when there’s a body, it counts. “Filming around” certain scenes of sex and violence just makes the movie seem… neutered. I’m especially referring to a scene with an actual neutering.

Lisa (Newton), a teenager in 1989, doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t have any friends, save for her unrequited crush Michael (Henry Eikenberry), and well-meaning-but-airheaded stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). She suffered the horrific loss of her mother a few years ago, and her father married the awful Janet (Carla Gugino), which makes home life miserable. She spends most of her free time between home and school at an abandoned cemetery. Her favorite gravestone features a bust of a handsome young man, and she jokingly wishes that she could join him. Some higher power takes this wish literally, and a magical lightning strike later, a reanimated corpse (Cole Sprouse) is breaking into Lisa’s house.

Lisa takes on “The Creature” as a pet project. She helps him wash off centuries of soil, lets him sleep in her closet, and gives him clothes to wear (you better believe there’s a montage of him trying on outfits). He’s still very much suffering the effects of being dead, including missing certain body parts, but he helps her out too, listening to her talk about her problems, and playing her songs on the piano (the best scene in the movie is a musical number), and vanquishing her enemies. Lisa has to hide The Creature and their shared misdeeds, and she knows that their relationship can’t last much longer, but maybe it can last just long enough for her to get with Michael? She still wants the heartthrob whose heart can actually throb.

I was on board with “Lisa Frankenstein” for a good chunk of its runtime. The jokes were hitting more than they missed, and I was drawn in by Newton’s performance. Then the serious violence kicked in and Lisa lost her relatability. I feel like the filmmakers misunderstood the praise for Newton in “Freaky.” Yes, she was great as both an awkward teenager and a psychotic serial killer, but those were two different characters. Lisa is an unholy mashup of the two, and while I can certainly understand the complexity of a goody-two-shoes discovering she has a dark side, Lisa goes so dark that she validates everyone who wrote her off as an ostracism-worthy weirdo in the first place.

With its focus on the relationship between a healthy, articulate woman and a lumbering, inarticulate Creature, “Lisa Frankenstein” actually reminds me more of 2013’s “Warm Bodies” than any version of “Frankenstein” I’ve seen. If you want a movie where a science project with a tenuous relationship with its creator runs amok and falls in love, go see “Poor Things,” a nominee for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. There’s a movie that isn’t afraid of an R rating, and it just comes off as more – this phrase seems particularly appropriate – comfortable in its body.

 

“Lisa Frankenstein”: C

“Poor Things”: B

 

“Lisa Frankenstein” is rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, sexual content, language, sexual assault, teen drinking, and drug content. Its running time is 101 minutes.

 

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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