Struck by Lightning (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Carson (Chris Colfer) is a high school senior whose goal is to attend Northwestern University and then later work as a journalist for The New York Times. In the meantime, however, he is stuck being the editor for his school paper, The Clover High Chronicle, with members who do not share his enthusiasm for writing. In fact, he ends up writing all of the articles in the weekly publication. Frustrated with his jaded peers, he partners with Malerie (Rebel Wilson), a girl with a penchant for plagiarism, and they blackmail their classmates into writing for the paper. While walking to his car, lightning hits him. He is dead.
Although it has a fun premise, the elements in “Struck by Lightning,” written by Chris Colfer, do not quite come together in order to create a memorable portrait of teen angst. Carson is not a unique character but he is interesting enough. Beneath his snarky persona and sarcasm, he hungers for control: in the politics of his school, the situation with his alcoholic mother, and what he feels he must do to maximize his chances of getting into his dream university. The half a dozen subplots often serve as distraction.
Most frustrating is the relationship between Sheryl (Allison Janney) and Neal (Dermot Mulroney), Carson’s mother and father. Despite the actors’ attempt to make something out of the material, they can only do so much with an underdeveloped screenplay. There are many scenes that show them apart. When they finally end up in the same room, the scene is supposedly moving but it is executed with minimal energy, like it is preferred not to be dealt with. What could have been a very important scene is interrupted by another. Then it cuts back to Sheryl and Neal having finished their conversation. What exactly did they say to each other after not having seen one another for five years?
The blackmail does not reach full throttle until a little over halfway through. Carson and Malerie going around school and finding out about everybody’s secrets are joyful, funny, shocking, a bit naughty, and sometimes downright wrong. It is the best part of the film so it is curious that is rushed. The only reason I can come up with is that the extortion needed to have been palatable to most audiences. Since it cops out, the comedy’s power wanes.
Colfer shines in playing someone who is so smart and so determined to get out of the small conservative town that he considers a prison. We believe that he feels it is absolutely necessary for him to do crazy things, even going as far as blackmailing a teacher, to have a chance at freedom. I liked Carson because he fights for what he wants while others learn to accept that where they are now is where they will always be. I want to see more characters like him on screen. Unlike in so many high school comedies, the protagonist does not have silly romantic problems. We do even know his sexual preference. His ambitions come first and he will do anything to get that much closer.
Directed by Brian Dannelly, “Struck by Lightning” strives to make a statement about high school life and what is beyond it, but it lacks the jagged edge of Alexander Payne’s “Election” and the hot pink snarky humor of Mark Waters’ “Mean Girls.” It is either stuck or on autopilot for about half of its running time. So when the narration starts to utter lessons to be extracted from the story, they end up evoking a strain of mechanical generalizations rather than true insight.