I’ve always enjoyed movies, and for the better part of the last few years I’ve been obsessively keeping up with new releases. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to as much recently due to new adjustments in real life. However, the downside to watching a lot of movies is that it’s easy to grow tired of the same story being told over and over again with only the tiniest variations.
My point is that because a lot of the big studio movies and blockbusters are formulaic and resort to the most common denominator in order to reach a broad audience, I often prefer the occasional independent film. I think it’s more interesting to see what someone can do with a well written script and a low-budget, than watching another in a long line of Tom Cruise action movies that mostly consists of an excess of explosions and a lot of special effects. This brings me to my review of ‘Struck by Lightning’.
Chris Colfer’s debut movie tells the story of Carson Phillips, and overachieving and underappreciated aspiring writer and high school student whose goal is to gain early acceptance to Northwestern University. After being told by his guidance counsellor that he needs to broaden his portfolio in order to better his chances, Carson decides to seek the help of his friend Malerie and create a literary magazine. When Carson finds it difficult to gather up the manpower he needs in order to complete this task, he realises he has enough dirt on his fellow students and decides to blackmail them. He finishes the magazine at last and submits it for his application, but his mother thwarts his plans by stealing his acceptance letter. After learning that Carson’s father is remarrying and expecting another child, she just can’t deal with her son leaving her as well. In the end we see Carson fall apart as he learns that all his hard work and questionable decisions were in vain, but also come to accept the friends he has made in the process. “It doesn’t matter if you’re stuck in the past or if you’re trying to forget the past, what matters is what you do in the present,” he tells Malerie before declaring them best friends. Of course, as the title suggests, the second he finds that happiness and contentment within himself he is struck and killed by lightning.
I enjoyed this movie for a lot of reasons. First of all, the cast is amazing. I loved Allison Janney as his mother. When I read the companion novel I found it very difficult to sympathize with her choices, especially her decision to hide the letter. Allison Janney was able to make me understand her character and made her motivations clearer, if not forgivable. Christina Hendricks was perfect as April, Carson’s dad’s new fiancé. She was sweet and caring and managed to put across how uncomfortable she was with her future husband’s life choices. Chris Colfer himself did an excellent job portraying both the conniving and manipulating side of Carson as well as the boy inside who just wanted to get away and make something of himself, and I think he proved to a lot of people that he has a broad range as an actor. My favourite was Rebel Wilson as Malerie. There is something about her comedic timing that always makes me laugh, and I thought she was perfect as the slightly ditzy sidekick in this movie.
I also really enjoy how the movie never really tries to deceive its viewers. You’re immediately introduced to the fact that this is not a story with a happy ending, but that it’s still a story worth telling. As much as I might have wished for Carson to achieve all his dreams and get out of his small town home to experience new and better things, this is a more interesting story. Which leads me to something Chris Colfer himself has said in interviews; that one of his motivations behind this movie was to write a story where high school wasn’t the utopia that popular culture often paints it to be. Carson is not a popular kid who just wants friends and to move up on the social ladder, but someone whose aspirations are to get it over with.
Before I finish I want to give a short mention to the companion novel. I don’t think it’s necessary to read it to enjoy the movie, but it elaborates on a lot of the secondary characters in a way that the movie didn’t have time to do. It’s not vital, but there are scenes where Carson acknowledges the damage his actions might cause his ‘victims’ in a way you don’t see as much in the film. I also appreciated the addition of the full versions of a select few submissions to the literary magazine, as well as the many, many sarcastic jokes. If for no other reason, you should check it out for the paragraph comparing high school to prison; it’s funny!