Note – This review was originally published on April 27th. Struck By Lightning is now available on iTunes and VOD.
Spoiler alert: This review discusses plot details for the film Struck by Lightning.
Not many teen comedies bother trying to take an honest look at the real and sometimes insurmountable obstacles faced by even the best and brightest during the tumultuous high school years.
Then again, not many teen comedies begin by killing their main character off in the first 90 seconds.
Struck By Lightning, directed by Brian Dannelly and written by and starring Glee star Chris Colfer, isn’t your typical teen movie. It isn’t even your atypical teen movie – you know, the anti-establishment screeds spawned by the brilliant (and possibly even dangerous) Heathers that made the ’90s a renaissance of outsider teen entertainment. But while everything from The Craft to Drive Me Crazy to Never Been Kissed delighted in subverting the high school power structure, very few of those films tried to actually accomplish anything within it.
In Lightning, Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a smart and ambitious teen whose only life goals are to become the editor of The New Yorker, be the youngest person to be published by The New York Times, and win the Nobel Peace Prize and Pulitzer Prize for journalism (and I may be leaving out a few). But first, he must get out of his podunk hometown of Clover, which for him means getting accepted into Northwestern University. If you haven’t noticed, Carson knows what he wants – and as we soon learn, he isn’t afraid to break a few eggs to get to the New Yorker cafeteria’s omelet bar.
Chris Colfer and Rebel Wilson
Upon the advice of his professionally inept career counselor (Angela Kinsey, at her most delightfully batty), Carson decides to start a literary magazine at his school – despite the fact that the newspaper (which he also runs) is a total failure. When he can’t get anyone to submit to the magazine, Carson decides to force his classmates into contributing to his dream by blackmailing them with their dirty secrets, which he uncovers with the help of his only friend, a camera-happy loser and failed writer named Malerie (Bridesmaids‘ awesome Rebel Wilson). Among his targets are a philandering cheerleader (Modern Family‘s Sarah Hyland), a prissy know-it-all with a dirty side (Suburgatory‘s amazing Allie Grant), and a few closeted gay guys … well, one’s the president of Drama Club, so his closet is probably filled with tulle – but his down low BF isn’t ready to come out yet.
So sure, Struck by Lightning may share the same basic setup as plenty of other teen flicks where an outsider uses the hypocrisy of the school’s ruling class against them. But while the thrill of these setups usually comes from the outsider’s pleasure in watching the high-functioning kids squirm when they’re revealed to be less-than-perfect, in this case their tormenter really just wants to get into college. Carson isn’t a moralist, he’s an opportunist – but when his scheme has the unintended effect of actually getting some of his classmates to think more deeply about their goals and ambitions, he welcomes the chance to try and change things for the better for everyone.
As the film’s rather unlikable central character, Colfer is great – he’s still playing a pithy, super-smart kid in the Kurt Hummel mold, but Carson is far more jaded and less prone to throwing glitter on his problems. Carson is prickly, uncompromising, and sometimes downright mean, which is fascinating to watch – every move he makes has an undercurrent of barely-concealed rage. It’s actually surprising that his character didn’t explode on his own before the lightning got to him.