out of Five
Running time: 84
Likeable, frequently funny comedy enlivened by snappy dialogue and strong performances from a superb comic cast, though the overall plot is weak and the opening conceit referenced in the title fails to convey any dramatic or emotional weight.
What's it all about?
Directed by Brian Dannelly (who made 2004's wonderful high school satire Saved!) and written by Glee's Chris Colfer, Struck By Lightning stars Colfer as 17 year old high school misfit Carson Phillips, who, as the title implies, is struck by lightning in the opening scene, dies and narrates the film from beyond the grave, like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. Carson's story, it transpires, is a relatively simple one: after his clueless guidance counsellor (Angela Kinsey) informs him that he needs to boost his university application if he wants to get into his dream school, he concocts a plan with best friend Mallorie (Rebel Wilson) to blackmail his couldn't-care-less-classmates into contributing to his school literary magazine.
Meanwhile, Carson also has his fair share of problems at home: his booze-and-prescription-drug-addicted mother Sheryl (Allison Janney) has never recovered from his father (Dermot Mulroney as Neal) walking out on them so is understandably mortified when she discovers he is having a baby with sweet new pharmacist assistant April (Christina Hendricks) and that they are planning to get married.
Colfer makes an engaging (if occasionally slightly annoying) lead, while Janney is wonderful as his embittered mother; their sparky interactions form the film's best moments, particularly when she informs him that she used to slip ADD medicine into his food as a kid and, dumbstruck, he replies, ‘I just thought I was unusually calm and mature for my age...’ There's also terrific comic support from The Office's Angela Kinsey (as a guidance counsellor who's never heard of Northwestern university), while Rebel Wilson steals yet another entire movie as Mallorie.
The script is packed with very funny lines and Dannelly pulls off a number of unexpectedly emotional scenes, notably Sheryl's confrontation with April (‘I was you and now I'm this’) and her reaction to the news of Carson's death in the film's closing moments (a powerful, cleverly directed moment, because we think we've already seen her reaction in an earlier scene). The film also gets in some caustic digs at the standard high school movie stereotypes, though those targets are admittedly pretty open.
The film's biggest problem is that the central plot is extremely weak; it's hard enough to care whether Carson gets into Northwestern or not anyway, let alone once you know he's already dead. Similarly, the conceit of killing him off in the opening scene fails to provide any dramatic or emotional weight and the overall message of the film seems confused as a result.
Struck By Lightning is let down by an underdeveloped central plot and a confused central message but it's worth seeing for its frequently funny dialogue and strong comic performances from an assured cast.