Chris Colfer made his name as Kurt on Glee. While that keeps him pretty busy, he’s found time to write some children’s books and also the screenplay for Struck By Lightning. The fact he’s still only 23 is quite sickening.
He also takes the lead role here as Carson Phillips, who in the first few seconds of the movie is hit by lightning and killed. The film then flashes back to see how he got to that point. Carson is a senior in high school with dreams of becoming a journalist. He knows where he wants to work and what university he intends to go to – and he’s determined to get there.
When he’s told that running the school paper isn’t going to cut it anymore if he wants admission to his college of choice, he decides to start a literary magazine. There’s one problem though, his lackadaisical classmates don’t want to write anything, except for friend Malerie (Rebel Wilson). Carson doesn’t let that get in the way and finds reasons he can blackmail others into providing pieces for the magazine, whether it’s in return for not outing two boys in a relationship or keeping quiet about one young man who’s dealing pot.
Carson also has other issues, including a slightly unhinged mother (the awesome Alison Janney) who’s never gotten over her husband leaving. His father (Dermot Mulroney) meanwhile has been largely absent from his life, but they are brought back together when his fiancée (Christina Hendricks) wants to meet her future husband’s son.
It’s an entertaining if slightly messy movie. Colfer is a decent writer, coming up with some good dialogue and exploring various things in interesting ways, from friendship and teen life to the difficulties of family. He’s also got a strong sense of character, bringing many of the people in the film more depth than you might expect, particularly Carson’s mother, who could easily have just been a monster but is given a surprising amount of pathos. However it’s all slightly affected by the young writer’s curse of being undisciplined, trying to do too much and never fully wrangling all its pieces together.
For example the film’s hook – a young man blackmailing his classmates into working for his literary magazine – is an interesting idea, but what the film’s trying to say about it is sometimes murky, leading some to say the film is condoning bullying. It’s not, but the film tries to do so many things without quite having power to handle it all that things sometimes become unclear. That’s equally true of the fact Carson is struck by lightning and killed, which ends up feeling unnecessary as the payoff doesn’t work as well as the script seems to think it will.
However all the issues are round the periphery as the film still works, with interesting characters and some very good performances from the likes of Janney and Rebel Wilson (in a slightly more subdued part than we’ve recently seen her giving). It’s got some worthwhile things to say and some interesting ways of saying them – it’s just that it’s not quite tight enough to be more than a decent watch. That said, Struck By Lightning does suggest that as he grows as a writer, Colfer could well produce something truly excellent in the future.
Overall Verdict: Struck By Lightning is sometimes witty, well-acted and with some interesting ideas, but ultimately it has a few too many ideas and not enough strength to pull them all together.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac