In November of 2012, I was browsing through the book store on my Kindle searching for something to read, when I paused at a new release called Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal. The boy on the cover, crouched on a chair with a lightning bolt made from broken pencils aimed at his head, seemed familiar. Why was he familiar?
I had my answer at the author’s name. Chris Colfer plays Kurt Hummel on the musical-comedy-drama Glee. The book I’d discovered was based on the film Struck By Lightning, and is a journal told from the perspective of the lead character.
While many people would have scrolled on, I was intrigued. I like discovering that actors are more than their most iconic characters, and a speedy Google search informed me that Colfer wrote and starred in the film, before writing the book as a companion piece. The film of Struck By Lightning hadn’t been released yet, so I downloaded The Carson Phillips Journal instead, laughed out loud a lot, finished it in a day and proceeded to twiddle my thumbs until the film’s UK release.
Fast-forward to October 2013, and Struck By Lightning has been released on DVD and digital download in the UK. I’m biased because I liked the book, but it was a genuine joy to watch on screen.
The story revolves around Carson Phillips (Colfer), an unpopular high school student with fierce ambition and a sharp tongue. Fed up with his life with a drunken mother (Allison Janney) and absent father, he dreams of attending Northwestern University and becoming a top journalist. Determined to stand out in his application, Carson creates a literary magazine that no one wants to submit work to. Well, not counting his best friend Malerie (played hilariously by Rebel Wilson), who has a habit of plagiarising other authors work. Seeing no alternative, he blackmails the Clover High student body into helping him out.
Considering this is the first film Chris Colfer has penned, it’s a very good début. Having originally written the story as a youngster, he turned it into a script and recruited the likes of director Brian Dannelly to make the project a reality. Soon Christina Hendricks, Sarah Hyland, Polly Bergen and Dermot Mulroney were rounding out the cast, and the result is a smart, funny, bittersweet and brutally honest story about the lengths you will go to live your dream.
Struck By Lightning is not a perfect film. I get the impression a lot of important scenes were cut, things which are brought up in the book and would have improved the narrative flow and fleshed out the sometimes two-dimensional side-characters. I put that down to the creative team and the editors though, rather than Colfer’s writing.
Some people will find Colfer’s portrayal of Carson difficult to stomach too. Minus a soft spot he has for his grandmother (who barely remembers who he is), Carson has no filter and tells everyone (parents included) what he thinks of them. A personal favourite was when he informed head cheerleader Claire Mathews (Hyland) that he refused to be prodded with her “bitchfork” any longer. You’re torn between thinking he’s a complete jerk and wishing you had the guts to speak out the same way. I’m not sure you’re supposed to like him, but I kind of did?
The performances of the cast around him certainly make you understand his reluctance to play nice though. Allison Janney steals most of her scenes as Carson’s jaded mother Sheryl, and Hendricks adds sweetness to an otherwise harsh group. My personal favourite is Emilio (Roberto Aquire), the transfer student with a plot point that’s so ridiculous it’s kind of plausible.
If you are a fan of the following things: Chris Colfer, Rebel Wilson, snarky protagonists, character death, and high school comedies which DON’T revolve around sex and romance (seriously, it’s really refreshing), Struck By Lightning is worth a look.
Struck By Lightning is available on Amazon and iTunes now.
Additionally Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal is available on Kindle and in paperback.