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Knight at the Movies: Struck by Lightning
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2013-01-16

This article shared 3823 times since Wed Jan 16, 2013
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I think that one of the most positive things Ryan Murphy, the openly gay television mogul, has gifted culture with is the discovery of Chris Colfer. Murphy discovered Colfer (who hails from tiny Clovis, Calif.) when he auditioned for Glee in 2009. Murphy was so taken with Colfer that he created the role of Kurl Hummel—the fashion-forward, openly gay teenager who anchors the glee club with his magnificent soprano/tenor voice, abetted by the equally magnificent Rachel (Lea Michele), his female (though straight) doppelganger—for him. Both Colfer and Michele (along with Jane Lynch) became the breakout stars of the show, and both characters have consistently provided Glee with some of its most compelling plotlines.

Colfer—who is openly gay and in interviews is so polite, forthright and gracious in his opinions and ability to express them—has also found himself a role model for teens, and perhaps a few of his adult peers as well. He's the darling young man you can't wait to bring home to meet your parents and he's the kind of catch parents want for their gay sons. Who doesn't love this guy, straight or gay?

Creatively, Colfer has also proven to be a bit of a wunderkind—one of those dynamos with dozens of concurrent projects in several areas of the arts. He's won a Golden Globe, been nominated for the Emmy (twice) and seen his first novel rocket to the top of the New York Times best-seller list (a sequel is on the way)—all while keeping the home fires of Glee burning brightly via the weekly show and its endless promotional arm (concert tours, CD releases, etc.).

Now the 22-year-old Colfer is starring in his first movie, a black comedy set in high school called Struck By Lightning that he unsurprisingly—given this background—penned a first draft of when he was 16 and still in high school himself. The movie doesn't quite continue Colfer's winning streak but it's no embarrassment either, and it does offer the young actor a role a few steps away from his Glee character as well as enough laughs and heart to make it a must-see for the young actor's fan base and those with open attitudes when it comes to their comedies. The film opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and is available OnDemand as well.

Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a driven high school senior in fictional, small town Clover. He lives with his alcoholic, prescription pil-popping divorced mother (Allison Janney, snarky and spot-on as usual) but lives only to get out of Clover and make his dreams come true as an esteemed man of letters after graduation. The dreams are to attend Northwestern and write for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, and become the youngest-ever editor of the New Yorker.

Carson's literary dreams, however, are cut short soon before graduation when he is struck dead by lightning in the high school parking lot at the moment he is about to achieve the first of his goals—entry to Northwestern. Editing the school's paper hasn't made a difference in his application materials but editing a literary journal seems about to. All this we discover in the opening moments of the film as the now-dead Carson relates the events leading up to his fateful accident.

In pursing his goals, we're quickly told that Carson is a male combination of Reese Witherspoon's single-minded and noxious Tracy Flick in Election and Winona Ryder's mentally superior Veronica Sawyer in Heathers. The plot outline and several of the characters owe more than a little to both these black comedies—as well as Drop Dead Gorgeous and 2004's Saved! (The film is helmed by out director Brian Dannelly, responsible for the latter.) In true teenage black-comedy fashion, Carson, who is a social pariah at the high school, resorts to blackmail to get contributions from the popular kids to his magazine. He starts with the gay drama club head and his closeted lover, after catching them in a men's room stall. Carson is abetted by Rebel Wilson, his sweet but dim toady, and proceeds to get the goods on his other targets.

The movie starts high with this quick overview, the accident and the funeral ("Lightning Boy's Funeral at 2 p.m., Bingo at 4 p.m." a sign on the church marquee reads) but then never quite catches hold after its promising start. Part of this is because it treads on very familiar territory and traffics in teen stereotypes—the goth chick, the gay theater star, the Latino lover, the horribly behaved cheerleader, the monosyllabic jock, etc. But mostly, it's due to Colfer's script, which is altogether too sweet and lacks bite—for a black comedy it rarely goes for the jugular—and doesn't make a lot of sense upon reflection. Carson is altogether too endearing and put-upon (not only by the mother but by a distant father and grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's) to make a convincing blackmailer.

We're also not particularly invested in Carson's goal—the character doesn't seem to do much writing himself, have any literary heroes like Capote or Vidal and is never seen reading a book, visiting the library or reading an issue of the New Yorker—the magazine he claims he dreams of editing. And the movie keeps focusing on the adult characters surrounding Carson—his drunken mother, lousy father and the father's pretty, pregnant fiancée, as well as the grandmother. Top actors—Janney, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Hendricks, Polly Bergen, etc.—certainly keep the scenes chugging along, but I kept hoping the pieces of the script would fit together better.

Struck By Lightning is a sincere rather than charming or laugh-out-loud movie—and tonally, one of the latter would have made it work much better. It's also too serious—one wants more outrageousness—because that's what the fun little premise promises but doesn't quite deliver. Colfer (who also executive-produced) is off to a good rather than a great start in movies, and given the enormous talent this young man has demonstrated (some of which is on display here), I fully expect lightning to strike for him cinematically in the future—perhaps the next time around.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


This article shared 3823 times since Wed Jan 16, 2013
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