Snark factor? High.
Darkly funny? Totally.
Gave me feels? Yup.
Impressive writing debut by the lead actor? I certainly think so.
No idea what movie this is yet? Probably not.
In case you’re curious, I’m talking about 2012’s Struck by Lightning, written by and starring Chris Colfer, probably best known for his role of Kurt in a certain TV show about kids in high school who sing a lot.
Struck By Lightning, while also set in high school, has no singing teens or dance performances. Instead, it has cutting observation, dry wit, sardonic attitudes, and begins and ends with the same death of the lead character (much like a certain favorite movie of mine, American Beauty). If you wanted a movie with more of “Kurt” at his snarkiest and less of the pop songs, you got your wish.
Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a senior who doesn’t get along with anyone, argues with teachers and students alike, and wants desperately to live small town life and go to Northwestern to become a journalist. He is, as you may have guessed, literally struck by lightning and dies at the beginning of the movie, before going on to narrate about what his life was like before he died. Oh, and of course there’s the main plot of Carson using blackmail to get submissions to his literary magazine.
The cast is rounded out with all the usual characters of a high school: the athlete, the drama queen (male variety), the cheerleader, the goth, the stoner, the queen bee, the impatient principle, the ethics-less coach, the clueless councilor. You get the idea.Though the roles are familiar, the students are handled in a way that feels less like they are simply archetypes, and more like they are real people, with their own stories and pasts and pain. There is also Carson’s family; alcoholic mother, estranged father, grandmother in a nursing home. Most of the characters are played by people I know from other shows and movies.
The movie could have been depressing and sad. It could have been silly and uncomfortable. It could have gone too far into darkness, or pushed the comedy to an unrealistic direction. It didn’t do either. It walked the tightrope between the painful reality and the sarcastic humor beautifully, giving the film more heart and and compassion that either angle could have done alone.
It’s not going to be for everyone, but often the best stories aren’t; the best stories push boundaries, and shine a light into places we might not want to look at. And like the best stories, if this movie resonates with you, then it will be one that feels like it’s a secret made just for you, one which you’ll treasure for a long time.