Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) would have made a great journalist. Tenacious, driven, obsessed equally with truth-telling and being a great writer, I have little doubt, as he aspires, that he would have fit in well at The New Yorker, or somewhere like it. Unfortunately for him, he's stuck in high school and, as his opening voiceover reveals, he's never going to make it any further.
In the film's first scene, Carson is -- yes -- struck by lightning and killed, meaning The New Yorker dream as well as the stepping stone on the way to it -- admission to Northwestern University -- are never going to be realized. Carson, flaws and all, is an engrossing enough a character that you are likely to quickly forget the grim end awaiting him and get bogged right down with him in the teenage melodrama that precedes his death. By the end of his life, he's also a charming enough character that you'll be hoping that his post-humous narration is some sort of dream or fabrication masquerading as a plot device.
That this attachment to Carson develops is a bit of a surprise because he's not all that likable pre-lightning strike. Mercifully, he is not the cliche unseen outcast with the quirky, cooler-than-their-offspring parents and the wise-beyond-his-or-her-years younger sibling. No, Carson comes from a severely dysfunctional family. His mother Sheryl (Allison Janney) pops a cocktail of anti-depressants and drinks heavily to numb the pain of a broken marriage. His father Neal (Dermot Mulroney) is hardly in the picture at all despite the fact that he lives across town, only attempting to become a presence in Carson's life again at the behest of his pregnant fiancee April (Christina Hendricks).
All that wretchedness manifests itself in Carson's burning desire to get out of his small hometown -- the Northwestern-New Yorker path the most glamorous fantasy he can conjure to get as far away from his supposed caretakers as possible. And it's a burning desire that, at first, translates into sarcastic snobbery and putdowns of everyone Carson deems an obstacle to his dream. Yes, this is rare for a coming-of-age high school comedy; the misfit protagonist is just about as flawed as his tormentors.
I suppose that was what gave Struck by Lightning a slight effervesence. Carson develops as a character (and a human being) in concert with those around him. Too often in tales similar to this one, you spend the better part of 90 minutes waiting for the spectacularity of the hero or heroine to be recognized by those surrounding him or her. In cases like that, it's flattering to be in on the secret from the very beginning, I guess, but it doesn't exactly feel true to the real world. At least here we're all unlocking the secret together.
I just wish the secret hadn't been so trite. Carson's de facto best friend Malerie (Rebel Wilson) reveals the banal message on offer when she explains to him why she films every last minute of her day with a camcorder. "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," Malerie tells Carson. You've got to stop and smell the roses during your reign of terror as the editor of your high school's newspaper and literary magazine, you see.
This story seems very personal to Colfer, who is most famous for his role on the television show Glee. He wrote the thing, after all, and he hails from Clovis, Calif., a Fresno suburb that surely must be the inspiration for the town from which Carson so desperately wants to escape. With a book deal to his name, it seems possible that Colfer fancies himself as much a writer as a successful actor. If that is indeed the case, here's hoping he sets out to make more of a statement in his next screenplay.
My two overwhelming impressions of the film remain that (a.) this is one more piece of evidence that Rebel Wilson is going to be a massive star and that (b.) I was pleasantly surprised that Carson's sexuality wasn't really addressed at all (the right call, since it wasn't important to the plot). I'm guessing neither of those were exactly Colfer's primary goals when he set about writing Struck by Lightning.