If anybody could lay claim to being the breakout star when the musical TV show Glee became a phenomenon, it was Chris Colfer. As Kurt, the sensitive, gay high-school kid surrounded by cruel jocks, Colfer was the human center of a show that often reveled in snark and melodrama at the expense of genuine pain. His feature debut (not counting the Glee concert film) is Struck by Lightning, another tale of dark high-school days. If Colfer is worried about being typecast he has only himself to blame, because he wrote the movie as well.
He plays Carson Phillips, a young man who dreams of becoming a writer, leaving his small town, and going to college in order to get away from his dysfunctional family and the peer group from which he’s thoroughly excluded. Told he needs something more than great grades to get into the college of his choice, Carson decides to start a literary magazine, and he blackmails his fellow students into providing pieces for it by threatening to reveal their dirty secrets if they don’t.
This is a tricky premise, especially considering the fact that the movie aims for seriousness more often than comedy. Sure, there’s bitchy fun to be had in Carson getting the upper hand on his tormentors, but director Brian Dannelly (Saved!) and the script focus more on how the main character’s selfish actions are his own undoing.
The story’s flashback structure -- it opens with Carson literally being struck by lightning as he leaves the school -- gives us the remarkably dark ending right at the beginning, and while blending earnestness and withering sarcasm is never easy, trying to do so under a cloud of serious intentions is even more difficult. Since the film never settles into a confident tone, and the drama is neither unique nor universal enough to hook us, the entire project feels like it’s on autopilot.
The movie is full of appealing performers who never get much of a chance to impress. Allison Janney turns Carson’s mom into a tragic figure, but it feels like many of her scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Only scene-stealing Rebel Wilson leaves a mark, memorably deadpanning her way through a number of obvious jokes.
Colfer certainly deserves credit for getting this movie made -- not many 22-year-old TV stars have a feature-writing credit to their name -- but he still needs to learn a few things about drama and image management if he wants to maintain a career either behind or in front of the camera. leave a comment --Perry Seibert