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Struck By Lightning

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Friday Jan 11, 2013
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Chris Colfer, the mutli-talented actor who made a splash as a gay teenager on the TV series "Glee," has already come out publically, published a children’s book, and won a Golden Globe. Now he has thrown his hand into the screenwriting ring and come out a winner. The film is called "Struck by Lightning" and revolves around a high school senior who is struck and killed by lightning and then looks back on his senior year where he blackmailed his peers in order to start a literary magazine so he could get into Northwestern. Starring Colfer, the film is a smart and perceptive look at not only teenage behavior, but an insightful look at the effects of divorce on a family.

If there was any doubt if Colfer could carry off a role that wasn’t flamboyant or (let’s face it) gay, let this film be the proof. While his character’s sexuality is never discussed (he comes across asexual) Colfer’s normally high-pitched voice is lowered a bit and his manner of dress (jeans, converse, T-shirt, hoodie) makes him look like any other teenager. He still trades barbs, but his character - one Carson Phillips - is a vaguely depressed and snarky kid who calls everyone in his path out on their behavior, all while ignoring his own. The only person who calls him out on his issues is his Grandmother, played by Polly Bergen. Even though she is in the midst of Alzheimer’s and frequently doesn’t even realize she’s talking to her grandson, she never fails to mention how sad he always looks. And he does.

Carson is a kid whose father (Dermot Mulroney) left when they were young leaving him and his mother Sheryl (Allison Janney) alone. As a result, Sheryl has lost herself in her own depression which in turn has resulted in a dependence on alcohol and a variety of prescription drugs. Meanwhile, Carson’s goal is simply to get into Northwestern. He runs the school newspaper, but nobody - not even the school staff - much cares about it. Basically, Carson writes the whole thing himself while the few stragglers show up to staff meetings simply to get a credit. The only person that seems to care is Malerie played by "It" funny girl Rebel Wilson. Constantly carrying around a camera to record the life around her, she’s also a bit of an odd bird, constantly telling Carson she’s written something herself only to have it be lines from classic novels. Her goal is to find her own voice and it just might take Carson to help her find it.

The other kids in the school that Carson interacts with are the usual stereotypes: the bitchy cheerleader Claire (Sarah Hyland), the Goth girl Vicki (Ashley Rickards), cocky jock Justin (Robbie Amell), school pothead Dwayne (Matt Prokop), rich kid Carter (Nicholas Forbes), lothario foreign exchange student Emilio (Roberto Aguire), gay drama kid Scott (Graham Rogers) and popular girl Remy (Allie Grant). All have their secrets and by the middle of the film, Carson will have ferretted them out and used those secrets as blackmail.

But he’s not the only one with secrets. Carson’s estranged dad has a pregnant fiancée named April (Christina Hendricks) who works at the local pharmacy where Sheryl is a frequent customer. But April doesn’t know her future husband was married or that he has a kid. So when this little nugget surfaces, things get even more complicated than they already are.

Colfer’s script - allegedly written when he was 18 - is a sharp and insightful look into teenage interaction, as well as the machinations of divorce.

Needless to say, things come to a head once the Literary Magazine gets published and most of the characters will either get what’s coming to them, or simply learn something about themselves. This isn’t a movie that hits you over the head with over-zealous humor or pat messages. It’s like an indie John Hughes film where teenager’s feelings and confusions are taken seriously and they (thankfully) don’t talk like morons.

Colfer’s script - allegedly written when he was 18 - is a sharp and insightful look into teenage interaction, as well as the machinations of divorce. There isn’t a false note in the dialogue even when a few of the characters let cliché lines come out. Cliché as they might be, they are also realistic. And while the film isn’t hilariously funny and Carson can be somewhat of a jerk, there is clever dialogue throughout. When Carson’s mom tells him she used to slip him medication as a kid, he says with annoyed surprise, "I thought I was just really calm and mature for my age." "Nope," she responds. "You were drugged. I hid it in your food."

Not a film that will be opening on 3000 screens, it’s a small charmer that boasts terrific performances and has something to say about life. I must note Angela Kinsey’s turn as Carson’s clueless guidance counselor. Her ease and comedic timing is spot-on and became one of my favorite characters.

But it is Colfer who truly shines here. I wasn’t sure how he would fair in a role outside of "Glee." He seemed to be such a specific personality with such recognizable traits I wasn’t sure he’d pull off anything else. I was happily wrong. He truly creates a new character here and brings a maturity and depth to it that was surprising. He’s also showing the beginnings of shedding his young-looks and maturing into an attractive man.

Sure this might be a film-festival movie all the way and it won’t become a break-away hit like "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Welcome to the Dollhouse," but there is enough here to laud that it’s worth seeking out. It has a great cast and harkens the work of a talented writer /actor who is proving to be a Renaissance man to reckon with.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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