Soggy Story, Strong Support Cloud Struck by Lightning
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2013 11 Jan
DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: January 11, 2013 (limited, and on VoD)
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Brian Dannelly
Actors: Chris Colfer, Rebel Wilson, Allison Janney, Christina Hendrix, Polly Bergan, Dermot Mulroney, Angela Kinsey
Do you enjoy the humor of TV’s Glee? Did you like the catty put-downs in the 2004 Mandy Moore movie Saved!? If so, Struck by Lightning, written and executive produced by Glee actor Chris Colfer and directed by Brian Dannelly—the man behind the camera for Saved!—might strike your fancy. If, however, you’re weary of stories with main characters who condescend to everyone around them, stay far away from this one.
Colfer plays high-school student Carson, who dies after being struck by lightning in the film’s opening moments and then narrates the events that led up to that event. Carson is the driving force—the only force—behind his high school’s neglected writers’ club ("worse than detention," in Carson’s telling). Frustrated by the lack of submissions for the school’s literary endeavors and desperate for a calling card that might help land him a slot in Northwestern University’s freshman class, Carson and his friend Malerie (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect) concoct a scheme to generate literary submissions via blackmail. They find dirt on several fellow students, then give them an ultimatum: Contribute to the school’s literary magazine or be exposed for various misdeeds (many of which are sexual in nature).
Carson thinks better of himself than everyone around him, and Colfer’s script revels in Carson’s sense of superiority to his peers. The film is told from Carson’s perspective, so it invites viewers to join in with the derisive view of every young character except Carson and Malerie.
Whenever the story focuses on Carson and his high-school hi-jinx, Struck by Lightning plays like a listless episode of a TV comedy show, with some raunchy humor. What keeps Struck by Lightning from being beneath contempt is its collection of adult characters, nearly all of whom show far more complexity than the one-dimensional students. There’s Allison Janney (The Help) as Carson’s mom, broken down by her husband’s years-ago abandonment of her and Carson, and who has channeled life’s disappointments into a dependence on alcohol and pills. Under their influence, she’s a bit too free in expressing her every thought and emotion to her son. Dermot Mulroney (The Wedding Date) is Carson’s dad, suddenly reappearing with news about a new fiancée. That character, played by the luminous Christina Hendricks (Drive), brings compassion and heart to Struck by Lightning. Whenever she’s onscreen, the movie lights up—to the point where you might find yourself longing for the movie to be more about her character than Carson’s. Even the dim-bulb school counselor played by Angela Kinsey, known for her recurring role on TV’s The Office, is more fun to watch than the one-note performances by the weaker cast members. Also compelling is Polly Bergan as Carson’s senile grandmother—the one elder toward whom Carson shows compassion.
During a Q&A with Colfer that followed a recent preview of Struck by Lightning, Colfer said he was motivated to write the script for the film because he was "so pissed in high school." Struck by Lightning plays as though it’s Colfer’s effort to get back at those who wronged him during his teenage years. Watching someone else’s attempt to settle old scores—and to do so through criminal means (blackmail)—doesn’t exactly make for a fun time at the cinema.
At least the film isn’t a total waste of time, given the fine performances from Hendrix and its older cast members. Had its screenwriter been more grown up, Struck by Lightning might have risen above the self-centered high-school revenge fantasy that it is. Instead, it’s the sort of it’s-all-about-me indulgence one might expect from a high-school student. Perhaps with a few more years and a little distance from the emotional scars of his high-school years, Colfer will write something of more consequence than Struck by Lightning. I suggest waiting for that film and skipping this one.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; mom and son say they hate each other; the “f” word; racial stereotypes; various curse words
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Mom drinks wine in several scenes, and she smokes; prescription drugs are taken and recommended; bag of weed; drugs used as part of blackmail scheme; Carson tells his mom he’s “wasted”
- Sex/Nudity: Most of the country’s founding fathers are said to have been closeted homosexuals; a boy brags that he sleeps with girls and makes crude verbal references to sex; reference to a sex tape; a boy pulls up his shirt to reveal his chest; several bare-chested men in a locker room; jokes about venereal disease; two boys in a bathroom stall get physical; we hear kissing noises but see only their feet and ankles below the stall door; article refers to a small-town sex scandal; gesture implying oral sex; crude reference to the Clinton presidency; a young couple makes out; accusation that a teacher is having sex with a student; everyone is said to go to Motel 6 after prom; spoken assumption that a girl is sexually promiscuous; a student pretends to speak Spanish to get women to sleep with him
- Violence/Crime: Carson is struck by lightning and dies; a crack about putting someone to sleep like an animal; mom says she wishes she’d aborted Carson; joking comparison to the Holocaust; Carson blackmails students to get them to write for his magazine
- Marriage: Carson’s dad leaves when he’s young, and he sees his father walk out on his mother; a divorce; advice to never have a kid to save a marriage; a pharmacist is engaged and pregnant
- Religion: Mom says, “If anyone asks, we’re Jewish”; Carson expresses antipathy toward students who embrace Creationism; a student says God has blessed her with her complexion, and with great table tennis skills
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at email@example.com.
Publication date: January 11, 2013