Reviewed by Billy Tatum
Chris Colfer wears many hats in his big screen debut, but none of those are big enough to cover up the biggest flaws in this wasted opportunity directed by Brian Dannelly, “Struck by Lightning”.
Colfer stars as Carson Phillips, struck by lightning (literally) in the opening scene which means we’re in store for a movie long flashback. Certainly not the biggest crime in cinematic history, but acts of God are a pretty tough act to follow. From an early age, Philips was smart (and a smartass) to the point where he had to remind everyone how brilliant he was, such as telling his grade school class that “Our founding fathers were largely homosexual and slave owners”. That’s sure to makes friends and influence people at any age. His life consisted of two goals: enrolling in Northwestern and becoming editor of the New Yorker.
Unfortunately, he’s the leader of the most apathetic school newspaper in school history. When his guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey) suggests he start a literary magazine to impress Northwestern, Phillips enlists the popular kids via blackmail to help. There’s the head cheerleader, the jock, the rich kid, the yearbook queen. They’re so one-dimensional here that they don’t even need names, just titles. The closest thing Philips has to a friend is his assistant Malerie (Rebel Wilson) who once again plays the ditzy big girl.
Despite being newly hated at school, it’s still a welcome escape from his home life. His mom (Allison Janney) abuses substances by the handful and reminds him that she should’ve had that abortion, after all. Absentee dad Dermot Mulroney only shows up to finalize the divorce so he can marry newly-knocked up fiance Christina Hendricks.
“Struck by Lightning” isn’t a “Revenge of the Nerds” coming of age film where the obviously oppressed get their day. Nor does it explain how Philips was such an outcast besides his declaration that they’re jealous of his intellect. No, this film actually manages to make you feel sorry for school bullies to the point of joining them. Colfer’s Philips doesn’t give a second thought of threatening to expose students (and teacher’s) sexual innuendos, especially his gay classmates. A bit of irony that won’t be lost on many considering his Colfer’s own bullied background. And the bullying serves no greater purpose than to fulfill Philips’ narcissistic needs, but does give bullies a reason to say “I told you so’. Philips is neither martyr nor hero, despite Colfer’s best efforts. His jokes lean towards the obnoxious than the witty and his effeminate character is mysteriously asexual, which makes it easier for no one to get him or get close to him.
But there are some good performances in “Struck by Lightning”. Rebel Wilson as his fellow outcast is funny, but you wonder how many films she’ll play “that” girl. Polly Bergen’s performance is wasted as the sweet grandmother who develops alzheimers and reminds Philips of the potential and sadness she once saw in him. Whereas she could’ve represented any hope for Philip’s morality to emerge, it all happens too little and too late. Allison Janey as Philip’s hot mess of a mom captures not only what happens to a wasted youth, but embodies a woman who has truly given up on happiness. Janey doesn’t just give a role, but an acting lesson. Hopefully, Colfer was paying attention.
Struck by Lightning is available on VOD and iTunes and in limited theatrical release on Jan. 11, 2013.
Billy Tatum is a movie reviewer and entertainment writer for The Los Angeles Post. He’s written for popular sites such as Hollyscoop, We Got This Covered, Fastlane and Paste Magazine. He has worked for HBO as well as local television. Billy is also a freelance writer for Examiner.com. His reviews are written with the overall moviegoing experience in mind. He’s usually found sitting in the 3rd row. Contact Billy at firstname.lastname@example.org