Movie Review: "Struck by Lightning"
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2013
Directed by: Brian Dannelly
Stars: 3 out of 5
"Struck by Lightning" is the screenwriting and film acting debut of Chris Colfer. Best known for his role as Kurt Hummel on the show "Glee," Colfer brings a similar sensibility to this film, creating characters who speak in a manner that is far beyond most of the people who would exist in a real high school. Colfer also creates a quirky environment that is sadly hamstrung by the film's odd story structure. While the film is at its core a satire of small-town high school politics, its tone is hurt by a reveal that occurs in the very first scene. Directed by Brian Dannelly ("Saved!"), "Struck by Lightning" is a decent film with some great actors that unfortunately doesn't quite reach the heights it aspires to.
The film is told in flashback form with Carson Phillips (played by Colfer) narrating his deeds as the head of his high school's writers club. Phillips has big dreams that go beyond his hometown, including becoming an editor at the New Yorker and graduating from Northwestern University. Unfortunately for him, his life includes an apathetic student body, a mom (Allison Jenney) who has been secretly medicating him since he was a young boy, and a non-existent father (Dermot Mulroney). Desperately trying to keep the student paper afloat, Carson comes up with a plan to blackmail several students into working for the paper. Helping him in this dubious undertaking is Malerie Baggs (Rebel Wilson).
There's an interesting premise at work here, one that could've taken shots at high school culture and the pressures put on children by their parents. But it's all undone by a very odd reveal at the beginning of the movie: Carson Phillips is dead. The title "Struck by Lightning" could've been a nod to inspiration or a stroke of good luck. Instead, it's quite literally about a high school kid who is killed after being struck by lightning and is now looking back at his life from beyond the grave. This type of storytelling device worked in "American Beauty," where the story was driven by the mystery of how and why the main character was killed. There's none of that mystery here and that's a shame, because it keeps "Struck by Lightning" from being something great. Instead, it becomes a very good movie with a main character that the audience knows will never achieve his goals or dreams.
Colfer's take on Carson is not very different from his work on "Glee". Carson is a smart, savvy young man whose future should be ahead of him; however, because the entire film is told in flashback form from beyond the grave, it takes away much of the momentum needed for this type of character. Since Carson is the star, the audience sees everything through his eyes and should be rooting for him to succeed. By cutting off any chance of success before he starts, it becomes hard to relate to the character. That said, Colfer does give Carson some witticisms and one-liners that are fun, even if they feel like leftover putdowns from Diablo Cody's "Juno" script.
One of the film's saving graces comes in Rebel Wilson's portrayal of Malerie. Wilson continues her supporting role hot streak, creating a believable character who feels real. Her attitude matches the words in Colfer's screenplay, but she manages to imbue that behavior with depth in a portrayal that makes the character seem like a real person. Rebel does make some questionable ethical decisions, but again, these work within the context of what the story is trying to achieve.
This is director Brian Dannelly's second feature film, following on from the cult favorite "Saved!" in 2004. While this movie doesn't quite reach the heights of that film, it does show Dannelly's touch, especially in the performances he manages to get out of his young actors. Everyone brings their A-game, giving their all to make the material work and a lot of that comes down to the work ethic brought to the set by the director. However, Donnelly, who has worked on the television shows "Weeds" and "The United States of Tara," seems to have lost some of his cinematic ambitions, shooting "Struck by Lightning" in a manner more fit for the small screen.
While the opening reveal does hurt the film, the material within "Struck by Lightning" is interesting enough to keep the film afloat, despite the main character being essentially a ghost. The tight and sassy dialogue should appeal to fans of "Glee" and "Juno." Colfer does have good writing and acting chops and it'll be interesting to see where he goes from here. "Struck by Lightning" is a good movie that is worth a Saturday evening rental, especially for those who are Colfer fans.