Literary-Minded Teen Comedy More Stuck Than 'Struck'

Jan 10, 2013

There isn't much to say about Struck by Lightning, except that it's one of those interchangeable teen movies that lands in theaters in early January, the morgue for films nobody knows what to do with. That it was released at all is likely due to the clout of Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt on Glee and who wrote the screenplay, along with a companion young adult novel, as a vehicle for what appears to be his own blossoming savior complex.

Colfer stars as Carson Phillips, a high-school senior itching for a grand literary future despite being stuck in a backwater campus from which all ambition has fled. At this particular Anywhere High, even the careers counselor (The Office's Angela Kinsey, who's much funnier than her daft role deserves) has never heard of Northwestern University.

The short synopsis, because you don't really need a long one, is that Carson dies of extreme weather as the film opens, and again at the end. In between and against all odds, he grows extreme leadership qualities and discovers that living your dream can take many forms, to the benefit of all around him.

True, the redemption is accomplished with a Glee-ish vibe, meaning that Carson's messianism comes packaged in a varnish of jovial corruption and acerbic self-deprecation. At tediously repetitive length, Carson and his hapless sidekick, Malerie (Rebel Wilson, hold that thought), blackmail their underachieving fellow students into contributing to the school literary magazine.

Yet for someone who yearns to write for The New Yorker, young Carson seems unsuitably addicted to brittle Us magazine one-liners calibrated to the alleged cynicism of the Youth of Today. As one whose home is currently a way station for packs of smart-mouthed teens, I have yet to meet one who would come out with a line like "I hate you more than I hate the Holocaust." Who talks like that?

Despite its knowing veneer, there's an old-school TV movie (capably directed by Brian Dannelly) lurking just beneath the surface of Struck by Lightning, albeit one with little love or compassion for adults. These kids are decidedly not all right because their parents are all wrong — starting with Carson's mother (Allison Janney), an embittered wreck so obsessed with her past marriage to the feckless Neal (Dermot Mulroney), who's now engaged to pregnant April (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks), that she can't focus on her son's future except to try to derail it. Neal and April aren't much better.

Indeed, of all the satellites orbiting around Carson, only one amounts to more than a foil for his soaring visions. And that's only because she's played by Rebel Wilson. The Australian actress (she has siblings named Ryot, Liberty and Annachi, which ought to be enough prep for any career in standup) burst upon Hollywood as Kristen Wiig's bonkers roommate in Bridesmaids, and her brand of jolly-hostile outrage has brought glory to women's comedy ever since, culminating in this year's adorable Pitch Perfect.

As funny girls go, Wilson isn't just pleasantly plump, like Lena Dunham. She's flat-out fat, and her appeal isn't just that she seems serenely comfortable with her bulk. She uses it to seize attention, sure, but also to subvert mediocrity. The character of Malerie, a lonely stooge who hangs upon Carson's lips and is ludicrously ecstatic to be declared his friend, makes poor use of Wilson's prodigious gifts. But with just a few weird hand movements and a strategic roll of the eyes, Wilson wrestles Malerie away from Carson's condescending magnanimity, and waltzes away with the movie.

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