Rebel Wilson and Chris Colfer in “Struck by Lightning” distributed by Tribeca Film. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film.
After Lizabeth suggested we hit a movie last night, we discovered the early evening shows had already started but didn’t have the oomph to tackle a late night offering. Instead, we started trolling through “on demand” offerings — and quickly agreed that “Struck by Lightning” was a fine choice for mother/daughter television time.
It’s the tale of Carson Phillips, a smart but saucy high school student whose take on life embodies an odd mix of cynicism and optimism. “Struck by Lighting” premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC. It’s been available on demand through Tribeca Film since Dec. 19, and heads to select theaters next month.
Chris Colfer, known to many for playing Kurt Hummel on the Fox television series “Glee,” wrote the screenplay for “Struck by Lightning.” It’s directed by Brian Dannelly, co-writer (with Michael Urban) and director of the 2004 film “Saved!,” the tale of a teen who becomes pregnant while attending a Christian high school.
“Struck by Lightning” opens with shots of a “Clover City Limit” sign, a funeral rocking the nerd vibe and a little boy peeking through a staircase railing as his parents duel at high decibles. Phillips narrates the film, introducing viewers ealy on to the mom who can’t decide whether he’s her biggest mistake or her only hope. Sheryl Phillips is played by Allison Janney.
One moment she’s lamenting her decision not to get an abortion. The other she’s sabotaging his plans to move away and attend college. In between, she lies despondent on the sofa or makes animated demands of the neighborhood pharmacist. Phillips wanted to be Betty Crocker, laments her son, but ended up like Betty Ford.
The other women in Phillips’ life include a grandma (Polly Bergen) starting to lose her grip on reality and fellow writers club member Malerie Baggs (Rebel Wilson). Phillips heads the band of misfits, who’ve yet to meet a deadline for the school paper he decides one day to replace with a literary magazine. Malerie has a bad case of writer’s block, but she’s earnest and never stops seeking genuine inspiration.
Though words aren’t included on the cast and crew list, they’ve got a starring role in “Struck by Lightning.” Phillips does student editor duty in front of a mural featuring a large umbrella and dozens of letters falling from the sky — and Colfer’s landscape is littered with references to literary works. Phillips dreams of editing The New Yorker and similar adventures with language.
“Struck by Lightening” features fast-paced dialogue both funny and smart, plus zingers aimed at underfunded schools and overmedicated children. It’s also rife with midlife musings. “I was you,” Phillips’ mom tells a young, pregnant woman, “and now I’m this.” Seems one got pregnant to try and save a marriage, the other to force her fellow to the altar.
Phillips’ only encounter with his father, Neal Phillips (Dermot Mulroney), comes during a dinner held so fiance April (Christina Hendricks) can get to know him. Just two of the three escape with any degree of insight. The other merely explains that a person can say “I’m sorry” only so many times.
Five words from Shakespeare quoted early in the film reveal one of Colfer’s key themes — the importance of dreams. When, wonders Phillips, do we stop believing in our dreams, and in ourselves? And is a life without goals or dreams really worth living? Teens who groan when parents say such things may find they’re more inspiring wrought from Colfer’s pen.
Colfer’s film is companion to ”Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal,” released in November. His first novel, “The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell,” was released in July. It’s recommended for ages 8 and up, unlike the film you’ll want to save for mature tweens and up.
“Struck by Lightning” includes sexual content and colorful language that reflects the real-world experiences of plenty of high school students. Consider the third syllable in “valedictorian” and you’ll get a good feel for what to expect. Still, the mature content feels organic and authentic rather than gratuitous or contrived.
Our kids are all in college now, but the more existential among them would have benefited from seeing Colfer’s film while enduring high school classes that felt irrelevant and peers that seemed to value stupidity over smarts.
Both teens and parents can learn a little something from Colfer’s pearls — don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, listening trumps talking, we’re never too old for stories.
“Struck by Lightning” strikes the perfect balance of hope and despair across the generations.” It’s a playful, poignant piece confirming Colfer’s place in the pantheon of the precocious.
Note: Click here to enjoy Michael Schulman’s “The Many Hats of Chris Colfer,” published Dec. 21 in The New York Times and here to read “Chris Coffer: By the Book” published in The New York Times “Sunday Book Review” on Dec. 13. A preview screening of “Struck by Lighting” by Tribeca Film comes to FilmBar in Phoenix and Mary D. Fisher Theatre in Sedona on Jan. 6 (followed by a live simulcast Q & A with Chris Colfer) and Harkins Theatres Shea 14 on Jan. 11. Click here for details.
Coming up: Art from the heart, Musings on MLK