Having never seen more than a passing moment of Fox's Glee, it's impossible to comment on the actual nuts and bolts of the hit series, but certainly star Chris Colfer has parallel goals with his teen comedy, Struck by Lightning. Both tread on familiar ground, depicting the social warzone that is high school, where stereotypical jocks and cheerleaders rule while the geeks are treated like misfits. Where Glee apparently succeeds is presenting nuanced and realistic portrayals of those characters, an aspect which Colfer forgot to include in his film.
Supremely talented and already a best-selling author at the age of 22, Colfer also takes on the producing and screenwriting credits for Struck By Lightning, which has a genuinely clever premise that begins with high school student Carson Phillips literally being hit by a bolt of lightning and dying. The rest of the story proceeds in flashback as Carson's narrative spirit takes us through the events leading up to his tragic demise. Nice set up, but the rest is strictly pedestrian and the script woefully incompetent and unintentionally mean-spirited. Carson lives in an eye blink of a town where few escape to fulfill their dreams, but he plans to be one of the few who does. He wants desperately to go to Northwestern University and eventually be an editor for The New Yorker, but his attempts to run the high school newspaper are constantly thwarted by his schoolmates who couldn't care less.
Carson perceives himself as the perpetual victim of the ruling social elite, the usual assortment of football players, mean girls, snobs, and bullies, but the truth is that he's really just sort of a jerk. He acts as if he's superior to everyone else, and not surprisingly he's treated like someone nobody wants to associate with. Colfer fails to show us exactly how Carson is being held back from his dreams by the inaction of others. He's never put down, or beat up, or bullied. If he's ostracized, it's completely by his own doing, which makes it awfully difficult to root for him.
Directed by Brian Dannelly, who helmed the far superior Christian school comedy Saved! back in 2004, the film has a similar look but lacks the insight that made it so funny and relevant. The plot meanders along from one scene to another of Carson bellyaching about his predicament, while one caricature after another does little to be more than just a label. Even Carson's mother, a pill-popping divorcee played by Allison Janney, is little more than a vague outline of a human being. She frequently reminds Carson how she wishes she had an abortion, while at the same time working to keep her son from going away to college. Are we supposed to pity him and loathe her? Or vice versa?
It's never really made clear. Carson strikes up a partnership with a fellow misfit played by Rebel Wilson, but there's nothing there that binds them together. It comes off more like pity than genuine friendship. Little happens and the plot basically runs in place for an hour until Carson decides to blackmail the most popular kids into writing for his literary magazine. So now we're supposed to cheer him on while he bullies others into his bidding? This is a highly confused film that doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to be.
There's no doubt that Colfer is coming from a well-intentioned place, and that he genuinely wants to help others who were bullied like he was just for being different. But he's not an experienced enough writer to be able to convey that message with any distinction, and has instead created a film doesn't at all represent the ideals he espouses.