WARNING: May contain spoilers. But so does the movie's description, so keep that in mind.
Last night, I had the pleasure to see Struck by Lightning, the first feature film for "Glee" star Chris Colfer (for which he also penned the screenplay), at the TriBeCa Film Festival. I shivered in a ridiculously long line for approximately half an hour just waiting to get inside the theater, because I already had tickets to the sold-out screening. The line of ticket-holders stretched down the block, and another, smaller line stood next to us, eagerly hoping that someone wouldn't show up and they could get seats. No doubt Colfer, who was unable to attend this screening due to filming commitments for "Glee", would have been pleased to see the turnout.
I wrote most of this review on the subway on the way home, running on very little food and slightly less sleep (having worked 4-12 the night before), so please forgive me if it sounds rambling and incoherent. My handwriting got steadily more atrocious.
When you hear about all Chris Colfer has done at such a young age, it kind of makes you want to hate him. To be so talented and accomplished before you've even reached your quarter-life crisis makes those of us who have already passed ours feel as though we're wasting our potential. But that's what's amazing about Struck by Lightning -- it makes you think that maybe you can still achieve something. As Colfer's Carson tells his mother, "It's never too late to change your life."
Struck by Lightning is a well-written, well-acted dark comedy. After all, any movie where the main character is killed (he is, in fact, struck by lightning) in the opening moments isn't going to be all light-hearted and fluffy. Carson narrates the film from beyond the grave, which would normally annoy me because I hate voice overs, but in this case I enjoyed his snarky asides, especially when viewing his own funeral. Which sucks. Overall, it had an old school vibe for me, like one of the offbeat comedies from the 80s. When Carson and his friend Malerie decide to blackmail their classmates into writing for the newly-formed school literary magazine, it reminded me very strongly of Heathers.
Colfer has written an extremely relatable cast of characters that, while admittedly cliches, are still flawed and human enough to have been plucked from any high school in America. It may especially resonate with someone who, like me, grew up in a small town and devoted my life to getting out, yet lived in constant fear that I never would. These people are all trying to fit into the mold of who they think they should be rather than who they are, and Carson, outspoken and different, doesn't understand why. In a scene with head cheerleader Claire (Sarah Hyland), he asks why she gave up her first grade dream of being a ballerina. She says, "Everyone laughed at me," and he says, "I didn't." Carson's school is peppered with stereotypes, but they all acknowledge that's what they are, and by the end of the film you get the sense that they are trying to change.
The script is laugh-out-loud funny, a mixture of straight reads as well as improvisation (Rebel Wilson's famous line, "spread that shit like Nutella", was improvised), as well as heart-breakingly poignant. I was genuinely moved to tears, though I confess it isn't all that difficult to make me cry. As much credit for this must go to the fabulous cast. Allison Janney's breakdown when she learns of Carson's death is gut-wrenching, but the scenes with Carson's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother (Polly Bergen) affected me the most. This was a great cast with incredible chemistry, and it comes across as a fun movie to film.
I appreciated all the subtle references to the title, to the metaphor of being struck by lightning (which is not as much of a metaphor as I originally thought). That's how Carson explains inspiration to Malerie, how you get an idea and it goes through your body and needs to come out. When Carson's mother's doctor tries to convince her to put him on anti-depressants in order to ground him, I may or may not have snorted.
What is most refreshing is that this is, essentially, a teen movie, yet with a main character who has ambitions and goals outside of the immediateness of high school life. Carson doesn't have the obligatory love interest, nor does he seem at all interested in having one. Colfer told E! Online that he worried kids wouldn't focus on the message if they were too busy worrying about Carson's sexuality, so he just didn't focus on it. And the message I got out of it was that, while you should have goals, you should also live for the present, that you need to take the bad memories with the good, because at any moment you could be struck by lightning.
I believe that Struck by Lightning would be a success even without Colfer's avid "Glee" fanbase. It's fun and witty and different -- a teen movie that falls just outside the realm of typical, a film to which all sorts of people can relate. Four for you, Chris Colfer. You go, Chris Colfer.