Be warned: some folks sense of humor can be tiringly maudlin. And, as anyone can tell humor, humor is indeed a difficult concept. It’s certainly one that doesn’t always translate (or transmit) well from person to person: what one person finds funny, another finds depressing. Such is life, and such is the case with STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, GLEE’s Chris Colfer’s debut project. Colfer wrote and headlined the picture, and, while I’ve no problems whatsoever with his acting chops, methinks his script could’ve used a bit more maturity in order to graduate from class.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Here, let me spoil it for you: high school senior Carson Phillips (played by Colfer) is dead. In case you missed it in the title, he’s the one who’s been struck by lightning.
Now, before you get all high and mighty on me, let me remind you that (A) my second paragraph already spelled out the fact that there would be spoilers and (B) if you’re at all interested in this film, then you’ll know only a few minutes in much the same: Phillips is dead, and he’s narrating his story for the audience in flashback because – as a precocious and world-weary spirit at his ripe young age – he has lessons he feels need to be imparted to you, the viewer.
See what I did there? I did exactly what Colfer does with the ‘moral to his story’: he delivers the impact right outta the gate, and then he spends 84 minutes proselytizing about how life ain’t fair, how high school sucks, how parents are incompetent, and how you’d better live a life of dreams before it’s too late. And I did it in only a handful of paragraphs. Now, I’ve save you 84 minutes you can use for actually achieving some of your life’s goals. You can thank me later.
That’s what I mean about ‘humor.’ What works in STRUCK are the niceties – the little things – the quirks of young relationships; the stereotypical talking heads that populate a young person’s life (especially the school guidance counselor who’s more interested in securing a complimentary, free juice cup than she is concerned about your future); and the like. Colfer hasn’t quite experienced a full life, and, unfortunately, his script revolves around the very basic observations of a relatively young man. That isn’t a bad thing; it’s just limiting. That’s why STRUCK is also populated by bad or tragically flawed adults that take the shape of a wryly comic but still abusive mother (has Allison Janney skills for anything else?), a dismissive father (Dermot Mulroney), and a school receptionist who’s possibly part pedophile.
There are plenty of other television stars packed in here – to the gills! – including Christina Hendricks, Sarah Hyland, and Angela Kinsey. To Colfer’s credit, he does give everyone a good moment or two, which gives the picture a nice touch. Unfortunately, the fully advertised premise of the film – that Carson is intent on extorting his fellow high schoolers in order to get what he wants – doesn’t begin until halfway through the run-time, and, as a result, STRUCK feels like it was struck by lightning all a little too late.
An impressive first attempt, but I’ll be expecting better the next time out.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING is produced by Permut Presentations, Camellia Entertainment, Evil Media Empire, and Inphenate. DVD distribution is being handled by New Video. As for the technical specifications, the film is extremely well-made with crisp images, fairly predictable cinematography, and excellent sound work. As for the special features, there are a few, including a behind-the-scene short, an interview with Colfer and director Brian Dannelly, bloopers (17 minutes worth!), and a few deleted scenes. It’s a nice package – all of them are worth a look – so everyone involved should be commended.
RECOMMENDED. STRUCK BY LIGHTNING is a far cry from the zeitgeist works of John Hughes. Hughes near-definitive take on being adolescent in such films as PRETTY IN PINK, SIXTEEN CANDLES, and THE BREAKFAST CLUB appear to be fairly safely mounted on their respective pedestals if Colfer’s work is any indication; and that’s actually quite sad. Much of Colfer’s script is winning – he admirably captures the sensibilities of the small-town boy with the big-city dreams and fairly consistently tweaks the basic high school archetypes (prom queen, cheerleader, athletes, druggies, nerds, etc.); the problem is – as most Hollywood creations do – he’s also intent on smothering all of the good under the typical Tinseltown indictments of middle America (mom’s a closeted substance abuser, dad’s a deadbeat loser, principals don’t give two squirts about students, etc.) the way a good Progressive/Liberal does. Nice try, son, but maybe you should stick to singing.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with a DVD copy of STRUCK BY LIGHTNING by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.