In 10 Words or Less
A look back at the inglorious days of high school
Loves: Saved!, Brian Dannelly
Likes: Chris Colfer, dark coming-of-age films, Rebel Wilson
Dislikes: High-school social dynamics
Hates: Most parents I meet
Every time I watch another movie or TV show about life in high school, it makes me wonder if I attended some sort of idyllic paradise of education or if society has crumbled to the point where high school is akin to a stint in prison. In my school, the most popular kids were in the honors program AND sports teams, and no one seemed to have a miserable time (outside of a select few who were doomed no matter their forced location for most of the day.) But based on most such productions these days, high school is hell with a lunch period. That's certainly the case with Carson Phillip's experience with secondary education, as his short-lived torture at the hands of the unenlightened, the bulk of Struck by Lightning, shows.
Written by and starring Glee's Chris Colfer, this film is certainly not a feel-good film by any stretch of the imagination, especially when you consider that the star of the show bites it before the title of the film is even shown. From there, we jump back a bit to see what his life was like before his untimely passing, and learn that, between his awful parents and terrible schoolmates, maybe getting zapped by Zeus wasn't the worse thing to happen to him.
As directed by Brian Dannelly, who returns to feature film for the first time since his terrific Saved!, all the negative energy aimed at Carson results in some engaging moments, as he rages against the machine and battles the happily mediocre of his town, with no support from anyone in a position of authority, be it his pill-popping mom (Allison Janney), his absentee dad (Dermot Mulroney), the useless guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey) or his angry principal. The great thing is, Carson is not a sympathetic character in any way, always picking fights and actively insulting people to their faces, so you're not encouraged to side with him from the start. Anything you feel for him is purely a result of his experiences and your ability to relate to them. He is basically an anti-hero, and serves as a cypher for the brevity of existence and the importance of making the most of it.
Considering Colfer's fame as one of Glee's stars, it would have been easy for him to carry over much of his character Kurt, and to be honest, it probably would have worked, since both characters are intelligent outcasts who are misunderstood and abused by their small towns. But some slight changes avoid the feeling that he's resting on his laurels, not the least of which is the absence of sexuality as a defining characteristic. Nothing about Carson is declared in this matter, and yes sexuality is a plot point for some of his classmates, but it's not important to Colfer's character, which is important if Colfer is to shake free of Glee. I'm not saying people are going to buy him as a soldier of fortune anytime soon, but he's more than the fey fashionista he's become best known for.
Like with Saved!, also set amongst the high-school set, Dannelly balances heartbreaking drama with biting, dark humor, though it doesn't have the satirical themes Saved! offered with its religious storyline. Here it's more of a character study, a lesson in misery, powered by all the talent in front of the camera, which in addition to Janney's crushing portrayal of broken dreams includes Christina Hendricks as a woman in over her head and the increasingly great Rebel Wilson, who portrays Carson's camera-toting friend-in-failure and delivers what may be the most crushing moment of a film that heaps them on you. The odd thing is, despite the struggles it depicts, in the end, it's actually a bit uplifting, which is a feat and a testament to a job well done all-around.
A one-disc release, this film arrives on a single Blu-ray Disc in a standard-width keepcase (inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art.) The disc has a static menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer here delivers a clean image with no notable defects and nice level of fine detail, but it can come off as a bit soft, and the colors are a bit muted in spots (most likely a style choice.) Black levels are solid, and there are no issues with digital distractions.
Struck by Lightning doesn't offer the most energetic audio you've ever heard, powered mainly by low-key dialogue, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track still manages to be a let-down. The dialogue is clean, but it's limited to the center channel, and the surround speakers don't have a lot to do, offering some minor enhancement on the music and the rare sound effect (notably the title moment.) Otherwise, the surrounds are basically dead.
The bulk of the extras arrive in a pair of extensive scene reels, one for deleted/alternate scenes (17:14), the other for bloopers, or at least what are termed bloopers (17:19.) The deleted scenes actually bring more of the dark humor the film could have used more of, along with more of Mulroney's character, including an outburst best left out, as the character would have never recovered. Also in there are variations on alternate endings that, though interesting, never would have worked, because they are far too touch-feely/after-school special to work in concert with Carson's caustic attitude and the film's overall downbeat feel.
The poorly-labeled blooper reel is more like an improv reel, as you get to see the actors riff, and yes, occasionally break, but it's mostly about pushing scenes to their limits, with Janney and Wilson making the most of the opportunity (natch.)
Wrapping things up are a pair of short featurettes, one a brief set of interviews with Colfer and Dannelly (2:16) where they talk about the start of production and how they came together on the film, while the other is "Story Behind the Scene" (2:16), with Dannelly talking about the experience of filming the scene where the cops inform Janney about her son's death. It's a good concept, but too short to get into much detail.
The Bottom Line
Knowing Dannelly was behind the camera on this film made it pretty certain it would at the very least be made well, but Colfer's writing and ability as a lead were unknown quantities. Fortunately, both sides held up their ends of the bargain well, aided by a star-studded cast, and the Blu-ray presentation and bonus features are good, if not great. It'll be interesting to see what Colfer comes up with next, but Dannelly definitely needs to make sure eight years don't pass before his next film.