Movie Review - Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer
I have just finished watching "Struck by Lightning", the new movie written by and starring Chris Colfer, now available for rent on Amazon and I-Tunes.
I would like to start this review by making a confession. If you look through the archive of this blog, you may find that there is no review or any kind of commentary for Chris' first children's book, Land of Stories. There's a reason for that. I didn't really care for it all that much and didn't feel like broadcasting that piece of information. I mention it now only because I want to make this absolutely clear: I am not about to give Struck By Lightning the praise that is coming because I'm a Chris Colfer fan. I do not necessarily love everything he does. But I will tell you, very honestly, that this funny, quirky, wise and ultimately very bittersweet movie is without question the best work he's ever done.
Move over, Kurt Hummel. Carson Phillips is now the shining star of Chris Colfer's career, for one dazzling and painful reason. The writing for Struck by Lightning is much, MUCH better than it is for Glee.
This review will get a little spoiler-y although it is not a recap, so I will present it after the jump.
For anybody who somehow missed the memo, Struck by Lightning is about a
boy named Carson Phillips, an abrasive, superior kid with a huge ego and
a huge ambition. As we begin the movie, Carson is already dead. He has been struck by a bolt of lightning while walking on campus, and he grumbles to the viewer about his fate in a sneering, farcical tone that actually reminds me very much of the best Ian Brennan Glee scripts during that heady first season when the show was both brilliantly mean and ingeniously funny. (The high school Carson attends, like McKinley, has a celibacy club.) He snarks about the terrible music at his own funeral, his mother's self-indulgent slip into a bitter haze of booze and pills, and his disdain for his fellow high school students. ("Cattle! Cattle! Cattle!") While we he is dead at this point, we are not engaged with Carson and the deadly moment is played for laughs, as are all of his early frustrating experiences dealing with a grimly unenthusiastic newspaper staff and a vacant school guidance counselor who makes Emma Pillsbury look like a very polished and well-prepared professional.
As the movie unfolds and we are exposed more and more to the desperate call of Carson's deepest dreams, that initial bolt of lightning begins to evoke tears instead of chuckles. Carson is not a nice kid. He's mean to virtually everybody he encounters except his grandmother, an alzheimer's patient poignantly played by Polly Bergen. There's no veneer of Hummel-like saintliness as he struggles against the disdain leveled at him by the other students, and his great triumph in this script is to blackmail all these other kids who hate him into writing short stories for his literary magazine. There are moments of insane hilarity, such as the moment when Carson, dressed up as a huge pencil, struggles to pull his Writer's Club float during the Homecoming Parade. There are also moments of almost agonizing pain, when he finds out late in the movie that his mother has quite horrifically betrayed him. This is a black comedy, but it's also peppered with some very wise observations about ambition, goals, and seeking to control your own destiny.
It is significant that Colfer has chosen to avoid many of the cliches that often come with teenage comedies, and in doing so he also downplays the importance of his own sexual orientation in his ability to tell a story. Although Carson's closest companion is a girl named Mallorie (wonderfully played by upcoming superstar Rebel Wilson), he has no romantic connection with her or with any other character in the movie. We do not know Carson's sexual orientation (although Colfer's novelization of this movie indicates that he is straight) and it's a matter of no importance. Many critics have questioned the ability of Colfer, a gay actor who became famous playing an iconic gay character, to be accepted in any role that might be construed as being straight. Those fears should be allieviated by the way Colfer carries himself and his character in this movie.
If you liked the first season of Glee, back when the humor was wicked and people reveled in doing wildly inappropriate things to each other, you will probably enjoy Struck by Lightning - but beware. The ending will get you where it hurts. Bring some hankies.
Kudos to Chris Colfer, who, like Carson Phillips, has chosen to dictate his own destiny rather than to be controlled by the environment in which he lives. As Glee declines in ratings and critical acclaim, we may wonder what will become of many members of this cast, and whether they will be able to find other work. There is no such worry for Colfer. If he can't get somebody else to write for him, he will just write projects for himself. If they are as inspired as Struck By Lightning, we will be hearing from him as a fresh, funny creative voice for years and possibly decades to come.