The most common question I’ve gotten after seeing Chris Colfer‘s first feature film Struck By Lightning is, “So he just played Kurt, right?” Chris has garnered such acclaim playing Glee‘s revered gay protagonist that it makes sense that he would want to stick with similarly precious roles as he’s slowly transitioning from Glee to other projects. But it turns out that Chris first dreamed up this screenplay when he was 16, three years before Glee hit the air. According to the press notes, he originally wrote a ten-minute piece where he performed every character; after the piece won awards at a Speech and Debate event, he expanded it into a 90-minute film and gave himself the lead.
Carson Phillips is a smart, talented, driven high school senior with ambitious dreams of escaping his humdrum, limited life at Clover High School and being editor of The New Yorker. To realize this dream, he has a concrete set of goals: Be editor of the school newspaper. (Check.) Become president of the Writers’ Club. (Check.) Get into Northwestern. (You’re going to need to start a literary magazine. And you’re going to need the popular kids to contribute so people will actually buy it.) His solution? Blackmail the popular kids into joining his lit mag.
From the summary I’ve given you, it’s crystal-clear that Carson Phillips is not Kurt Hummel. Kurt is a delicate, misunderstood creature suffering emotional and physical abuse by the school hierarchy for his sexuality and outlandish style. There’s a reason that Sue Sylvester calls him Porcelain, after all. Carson is also suffering at the hands of students too obsessed with prom — and administrators too burnt-out to care — but unlike Kurt, he has a backbone. He’s who Kurt is only now transforming into after three seasons of Glee; we could see that strength in the first five minutes, right as he gets struck by lightning.
Oh, yes: The movie starts and ends with Carson’s unfortunate freak accident and death. Through it all, Carson narrates the events leading up to his death day, making us understand just how shitty and hopeless everything was and how the lit mag brought a ray of sunshine into his life. (I will also commend Chris for not overdoing it on the weather metaphors.) This countdown keeps the action nicely self-contained, telling a hopeful story that never dips into unrealistic parable.
One of the smartest things that Chris did was to not make Struck By Lightning a discussion of Carson’s sexuality. At all. Yes, I had the sneaking suspicion that he’s gay, because in many ways I associated this character with Chris Colfer himself. But honestly, it’s ambiguous. There’s a scene where Carson confronts two closeted students and says, “Yes, I know something about being an outcast.” You get the sense that he’s talking more about his artist impulses that are consistently squashed by this school, not which sex he’d rather make out with. Carson doesn’t have a love interest of either sex, though Rebel Wilson gives a touching performance as the offbeat Malerie, who becomes his best friend.