Frankenstein stories seem to be having a moment. In the past few years we’ve seen Mary Shelley’s classic horror story reimagined in Poor Things, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, and Birth/Rebirth to name just a few. What unites these disparate films, other than the Romantic source material, is their unabashedly female perspective. What has always been a tale of feminine creation seems to finally be finding its way into the hands of female creatives. The latest example of this exciting trend is Lisa Frankenstein, a delightful horror rom-com from Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody. Set in 1989, this girly pop creature comedy is an enchanting blend of monstrous love and female empowerment.
Lisa (Kathryn Newton) is an awkward high school senior trying to recover from an unthinkable tragedy. She hasn’t spoken much since losing her mother and spends most of her time tending to graves in the local Bachelor’s Cemetery. When a dour wish and a freak lightning storm magically combine, the occupant of her favorite plot digs his way out of the dirt and comes to fulfill her forlorn request. The Creature (Cole Sprouse) may be falling apart, but his heart still works and this cold corpse may just be hot for Lisa. Hiding the sensitive monster in her bedroom, she helps to rebuild his decomposing body while he protects her from the human monsters dominating her life. This odd couple embarks on a killing spree both horrific and joyful and a mission to find themselves amidst the glossy pinks and pastels of late 80s suburbia. Though ostensibly sewing together her undead boyfriend, Lisa finds that this act of macabre devotion may be the key to curing her own emotional pain.
Newton continues her stellar run as the transformative Lisa. With flawless comedic timing, she wrings every once of humor and heart out Cody’s hilarious script. Instantly likable, we buy Lisa as an awkward loner who inadvertently pushes peers away with her blunt but aloof demeanor. But watching her through the Creature’s stony eyes, we see a girl very much like ourselves. Kind and curious about the world, her off-putting persona comes from a relatable struggle to process the immense rage building up inside her.
Providing sharp contrast to the verbose Lisa, Sprouse is surprisingly charming as the increasingly attractive reanimated corpse. In an entirely physical role he manages to convey love, loneliness, longing, joy, sorrow, fear, and murderous rage with the jerky movements of a man who’s spent the last two centuries underground. The chemistry between these two charming leads proves to be the film’s strongest element and helps to gloss over some of the story’s more outlandish moments. Can a tanning bed actually reanimate human flesh? Who cares! We’re just in it for their joyous smiles when they realize their wacky plan may have actually worked.
Liza Soberano is equally captivating as Lisa’s popular stepsister Taffy. Living up to her name, she exudes bubbly cluelessness, but Cody stops short of turning this ditzy character into a joke. Taffy’s earnest attempts to connect with Lisa are a welcome change from the dehumanizing mean girls of decades past. She stands in striking contrast to her cruel mother Janet (Carla Gugino), a manipulative nurse who would have fit right in with the Heathers of Michael Lehmann’s 80s classic. Gugino has a blast with this deliciously catty role, but manages to keep the tone light even when she’s threatening he worst.
Lisa Frankenstein exudes girly pop joy with hot pinks and magentas providing a perfect counterpoint to the Creature’s goth allure. Williams styles the film with memorable touchstones without overdosing on nostalgia. The walls are pastel, the furniture is clear, the walkmans are bright red, but Williams refrains from making any heavy-handed references or giant winks to the camera. Cody shows similar restraint with her trademark dialogue. Lisa and Taffy sound like slightly whittier versions of actual teenagers rather than bon mot-slinging wordsmiths on the cutting edge of conversation. Relatable 80s touchstones fill the script like fun references to our mother’s cottage cheese diet plates, folded football notes, and afternoons spent watching Days of Our Lives. Does this feel like the actual 80s? Not really, but it’s close enough. And more importantly, it’s so much fun to watch these deep cuts fly by that it’s difficult to get too worked up about verisimilitude.
The story’s tone is similarly light. Billed as a “coming of rage” story, Lisa Frankenstein takes us to the darker side of teenage angst and unrequited love. Told from the female perspective, Williams and Cody excel at creating relatable characters who take the pain of self-expression and the search for adult identity seriously. Fans of the criminally undervalued Jennifer’s Body have been anxiously waiting for Diablo Cody to return to the screen with another teen classic that positions the girls of the story as the primary characters. Sure it doesn’t all make sense, but it’s more about the flirtatious fun and hot pink vibes than any kind of scientific logic. This is 80s pink pop wish fulfillment and every girl who longed to be a little bit bad while serenading her crush with REO Speedwagon will swoon then die for Lisa Frankenstein.
Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.