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Struck by Lightning

2012 | 84 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Struck by Lightning


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Theatrical release date

 11 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Struck by Lightning Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 10, 2013

“Struck by Lightning” is Chris Colfer’s attempt to wake up his generation while they passively walk into limited futures. Known for his work on the television series “Glee,” Colfer is attempting to expand his interests and employability as the show declines in popularity, scripting himself a chewy leading role in a story that’s built around a Big Idea, yet doesn’t have the finesse to leave the crater-sized impact it’s seeking to create. Instead, the actor/writer/producer cooks up a host of half-realized ideas, flaccid comedy, and strident melodrama, looking to serve the goulash as adolescent illumination. It’s not exactly ambitious, but “Struck by Lightning” is a noble failure, with individual elements more interesting than the strangled, distracted whole.

Carson (Chris Colfer) is a brash, sarcastic high school senior who’s just been killed by a random lightning strike. Looking back on his life, Carson recalls his parents’ divorce, with mother Sheryl (Allison Janney) descending into an alcoholic mess, while father Neal (Dermot Mulroney) quickly moves on with his life, expecting a baby with pharmacist April (Christina Hendricks), which drives Sheryl into deeper depression. With dreams of becoming an editor at the New Yorker, Carson has to deal with his small-town schoolmates first, hatching a plan to impress college choice Northwestern by creating a literary magazine, teaming with pal Malerie (Rebel Wilson) to blackmail his slack-jawed peers (including Ashley Rickards and Sarah Hyland) into contributing personal stories. Working diligently to shape his future, Carson is disgusted with the town’s apathetic attitude, lashing out at everyone around him while his troubles intensify.

There are three subplots to follow in the picture: Carson’s literary magazine endeavor, the continued war of incivility shared by his parents, and the boy’s interactions with his grandmother (Polly Bergen), a kindly woman suffering from dementia. It’s more than enough to fill a feature-length movie, but it’s a difficult juggling act that Colfer, and his first attempt at screenwriting, doesn’t handle with grace. Attempting to make a film that touches on the lethargy of teen ambition and generational compliance, Colfer heads in one too many directions, never quite selling the importance of his numerous tangents. His grasp on a rounded narrative is tenuous at best, while dreaming up a surprisingly unlikable character in Carson, who’s more of a pill than a hallway savior, using his intelligence to speak down to others, treating everyone like garbage. Colfer also cheats the integrity of the work by coughing up high school clique and small-town rube cliches to connect the dots, making Carson into even more of a monster, openly insulting those who fall below his standards. For a guy scripted as smart and worldly, Carson doesn’t seem to have a clue about anything, confusing the characterization.

The only subplot that holds interest in Sheryl’s slog through life, wallowing in self-pity after the termination of her marriage, realizing she’s wasted her life on a lie. Janney’s excellent in the role, finds a few notes of defeat and bitterness that pop off the screen, while Mulroney and Hendricks also carry weight with severely undernourished characters. In fact, Colfer does nothing with Neal, despite his fascinating position as a man who keeps falling into domestic bear traps, unwilling to care about anyone but himself. And April has a corker of a revelation to process as she slams into Sheryl’s seething attitude while filling her numerous prescriptions, but the confrontation leads nowhere, joining the rest of the floundering supporting personalities waiting patiently for purpose that never arrives.

Colfer, with his high-pitched voice and credible projection of disdain, isn’t a robust leading man, but there are a few moments focused on Carson’s determination that come alive. Less can be said about his castmates, finding Wilson once again riding feeble improvisations into the ground, while the rest of the teenagers fail to convey individuality behind the formulaic writing. Interestingly, director Brian Dannelly made a similar picture in “Saved!” nearly a decade ago, yet his command of colorful characters remains as inert as ever.

“Struck by Lightning” layers on the woe in the finale, with rather extreme acts of sabotage offered mere seconds of screen time to process, while the entire idea of Carson’s death (which occurs right at the opening of the film) is intended to massage the script’s themes further, reinforcing the unpredictability of life and the importance of paving your own way. Fine sentiments, but they’re shorn of stability during a movie that’s frantically working to manage a considerable workload of doubt during a feature that only runs 78 minutes.

Starring: Chris Colfer, Christina Hendricks, Rebel Wilson, Allison Janney, Sarah Hyland, Carter Jenkins
Director: Brian Dannelly

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