He may play a flamboyant student with daring fashion sense on Glee, but Chris Colfer proved he’s much more than Kurt Hummel with his latest project. Colfer wrote, co-produced and starred in Struck by Lightning, a glimpse at small-town life and the big dreams that come with it. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and garnered much attention due to its amateur writer and all-star cast.
Growing up in Clover, California, Carson Phillips (Colfer) has always focused on one thing: Getting out and becoming a successful journalist. He argues with his teachers, runs the newspaper, and generally harbors disdain for those around him, with few exceptions. One of those is his grandmother (Emmy-nominated Polly Bergen), who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and tells Carson about her grandson who used to tell her stories. When he’s around her, Carson grows frustrated and sad, and even more fixated on leaving his town behind to make something of himself.
When his less-than-helpful guidance counselor (The Office‘s Angela Kinsey) tells him he needs to start a literary magazine in order to get into the school of his dreams, he uses his determination, his best friend Malerie (Rebel Wilson, of Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect fame), and her video camera to blackmail half of the senior class into contributing entries. While this may seem selfish, it’s hard to blame him: these kids have been giving him a hard time. There’s the popular cheerleader (Sarah Hyland of Modern Family), the rich snob, the sexually-promiscuous goth (Awkward.‘s Ashley Rickards) the jock, the drama geek, the over-achieving head of the yearbook (Allie Grant from Weeds), and the foreign exchange student. Carson is ridiculed by them, basically for actually caring about things, but a little bit for being a pain in the ass. So he uses his proof of their sexual promiscuity to extract writing that he hopes will be enough to get him into Northwestern.
At home, Carson battles daily with his mother, Sheryl (West Wing star Allison Janney), an unemployed alcoholic who attempts to stifle her son’s lofty ambitions in hopes that he’ll be disappointed when he fails out in “the real world.” Janney is as gruff and oddly-lovable as ever, especially when she meets her ex-husband’s pregnant fiance (Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), who just happens to be the new pharmacist where Sheryl goes to get the prescription drugs that get her through each miserable day. The trifecta of talented actors is completed by Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding, anyone?) as Neal Phillips, the man in question, who shows a newfound interest in spending time with the son he abandoned when it becomes important to his future wife.
It might sound as though Carson has a lot on his plate, but he juggles it with such ease that assures the viewer he would do just fine as a journalist. Of course, the title of the movie says it all, and everything we see is Carson looking back on his life. This bittersweet twist is actually not a twist at all, but introduced at the very beginning of the film. It’s a truly thoughtful recollection of what it means to be a teenager, for everyone faces struggles such as these, regardless of their place in this world.
In Clover, everyone is basically half-assing their way through life, because they see it as a means to an end, and having goals is pointless. But Carson is different, and this is what’s to be taken away from the film. While recounting his life, Chris Colfer’s voiceover provides us with a number of inspirational quotes regarding the dreams and “delusions” that got him through and gave him a purpose. What’s even sadder is that no one seems to learn much from this after his passing. I suppose it’s just a commentary on the way many of us float through life. In the end, the film is entertaining, poignant, and full of heart, and the cast is delightful through and through.