High school senior and aspiring journalist Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) doesn’t let anything get in the way of his attending his dream college. In “Struck by Lightning,” Carson relies on getting into Northwestern University as his ticket out of his small town, which is based on where Colfer grew up. However, the dream will never be reality, as Phillips dies after he is struck by lightning in the very beginning of the film. The remainder of the story focuses on his high school life a couple of weeks before the freak accident.
The dark comedy balances frequent witty one-liners with an array of caustic personalities. In a memorable scene, Carson’s mother, Sheryl (Allison Janey) lets her son know that she used to hide attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication in his food when he was younger when he wouldn’t behave.
Carson, with his single-minded pursuit to become a journalist and his disdain for his apathetic peers, is humorous to watch, but not always relatable. Through advice from his unreliable counselor (Angela Kinsey), who has never heard of Northwestern, he decides to start a literary magazine and submit it to the school to better his chances of acceptance.
Keeping in the vein of teenage movies, Carson is only able to get people to write for the journal after he blackmails the crème de la crème of the school, mostly using their various sexual indiscretions as bargaining chips. While he is nuanced, the other teenagers in the movie fall into the stereotypical roles, such as the cheerleader afraid of leaving home (Sarah Hyland), the jock (Robbie Amell), and the closeted gay theater aficionado (Graham Rogers).
The film doesn’t spend too much time on the blackmailing, however, which allows the movie to be humorous without relying too much on a gimmick.
Malerie (Rebel Wilson), Carson’s best friend, provides charm and spunk as she records everything around her with her camcorder. The film disperses her shaky video recordings throughout, including an especially poignant scene where Carson describes why he writes.
Colfer, who wrote the script, focuses much of his attention on the adults in the film, who give strong, thoughtful performances. Carson and his mother have a comfortable, albeit non-traditional, rapport with each other, as they trade barbs constantly.
In an especially haunting scene, Sheryl confronts her estranged husband’s fiancée (Christina Hendricks), reminding her that she was once in the younger woman’s position as well. By dint of an absentee father (Dermot Mulroney), a constantly inebriated mother and a grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and cannot recognize her own grandson, it is easy to see why Phillips is so jaded.
The film ends the way it begins. We are shown his death, only this time it is in sequential order. Carson does not leave behind any legacy nor does he die loved by the student body. Carson dies before having the chance to reach his prime and while his absence is noticeable, there is no dramatic immediate change, fitting well with the small town society Colfer has crafted in the film.