As a fan of Glee season one, I have a soft spot for Chris Colfer. As a human being with a brain I have a hard spot (that’s a a thing now) for Rebel Wilson. I just think she’s the best thing that happened in 2012. So I promise you that I went into Struck by Lightning with the best intentions. I really did want to like the movie. But it just ended up reminding me of all the students films that I sat through in college. It’s so close to being good, but it’s not quite there yet.
As a television/film major in college, I watched a lot of student films. So I know their style well. No matter how much talent’s behind the camera or how many student actors agree to star in it for free pizza, they always come off looking like a student film. You’ll never watch one and be like “whoaaaa did I just get teleported to Steven Spielberg’s screening room?” Mostly the student-film effect comes from a combination of budget and inexperience.
While Struck by Lightning clearly didn’t struggle in the budget department, the script lacked the depth and development that I would expect from a feature movie. You can definitely see the intentions of all the characters and where Chris Colfer was trying to go with the plot, but the strong premise ends up falling flat as the story moves into unbelievable territory. I won’t spoil it, but the entire plot ends up resting on an incredibly silly blackmail plot.
Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) wants to get out of his no-good horrible town because it’s filled with no-good horrible people, his parents included. So he spends all of his high school years doing everything possible to get accepted into Northwestern. From there he believes that he will go on to became a celebrated journalist who never has to think about his tortured childhood ever again. Putting aside the fact that there are several reputable journalism schools out there besides Northwestern and putting aside the fact that a kid as ambitious as Carson Philips would certainly apply to several schools because he’s smart enough to understand that nothing’s a sure bet when it comes to college applications, we can accept Carson’s plan being the focal point of the movie. No teen comedy set in high school ever makes total sense, so I’m willing to forgive him for these flaws.
What I’m not willing to forgive is how one-dimensional all the characters are in the movie. There’s a popular cheerleader, a rich asshole and an overdramatic thespian. While there’s a little insight into their characters, the overall moral of their stories seems to be “high school is as good as its every going to to get for these people ” While that’s a popular trope to trot out in high school movies, it’s rarely true. Some people do peak in high school and some people don’t. And contrary to popular belief, some people grow up after high school but still remain in their same hometown. That doesn’t automatically make them horrible people. I’m always game for a high school movie, but I’d love to see someone do something new with the genre.
On top of that problem is that that Carson Phillips is completely unlikable as a character. He’s not not as much of an underdog dreamer as he is a conniving asshole. He’s mean and he’s cocky and he’s never subjected to any kind of epiphany that might help him to understand what he has no friends. Considering the entire premise revolves around the fact that we’re supposed to be rooting for his success, this is a definite problem.
And this is why it felt like a student film. It’st he kind of script I’d turn into a professor and he’d make notes like “decent first draft, make at least one person in the movie likable just one. Also does anyone experience any kind of change in the film? Is there any character evolution or does everyone end the same way they started?”
I know, I know, Chris Colfer’s young. He made this movie before I even got my degree. But maybe he should have waited until he had a little more perspective, a little more experience in the field with what works and what doesn’t. Because I think the idea of a character getting struck by lightning at the beginning of a movie is a cool idea, but I just think it needed to be thought out a little bit more. You know, go back and forth with a professor for a bit and toss around some more ideas.
(Photo: NY Times)