Struck By Lightning

Struck By Lightning

***

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

I was struck by how fast things happen in Brian Dannelly's idiosyncratic Struck By Lightning. Much like Christina Hendricks' character April Adams, a pharmacist and six months pregnant, we are thrown into the small fictional California town of Clover, where time and relationships play by their own rules.

Written by Glee star Chris Colfer, who came up with the concept of the movie when he was a high school student and wanted to "vent about frustrations", Struck by Lightning finds its place in the tradition of American high school comedies. The fact that the script was written by a 21-year-old shows in different ways. There is a carefreeness about a number of subjects not often explored in the genre: Grandma (Polly Bergen, who called Colfer "an old man in a young body") has Alzheimer's , Mom (a courageous Allison Janney) an alcohol and pill addiction, the protagonist's death by lightning happens less than two minutes into the film. All of this is treated lightly, from the perspective of someone who cannot imagine ever having to die.

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In flashback, we learn about high school archetypes and how Carson (Colfer) wants to escape the confines of the small world he happened to have been born into, by becoming a writer.

Brian Dannelly directed Struck By Lightning to explore "what it means to be human", and high school is always a good place to look for that. "It's important to have actors who can improvise," he told me about his quest for authenticity at a Tribeca roundtable. "A lot of trickery" is his secret weapon, an attitude mirrored by production designer Linda Burton, who explained to me how they transformed a science classroom into the pharmacy of the movie, and another classroom into the funeral parlor.

Some of the dialogue could be more polished, but the brutal honesty of having a mother tell her son as an aside that she drugged his food when he was little to stop him from being so annoying makes up for it.

The biggest plus for authenticity in Struck by Lightning goes to costume designer Wendy Chuck, who manages, once again, just as she does in all her work with Alexander Payne (see Set Dressing about George Clooney in The Descendants ), to speak volumes about a character by way of the clothes they wear.

Over lunch, Wendy and I talked about how fearless Allison Janney is in embracing even the truly ugly skirt and ruffled blouse Wendy selected for her character as the drunken mother, who has given up on her life and is well on her way to ruining her son's. Dermot Mulroney, who plays Carson's father and fiance to lovely, pastel-clad April, dresses like a man who has fallen out of time. A beige cotton windbreaker is a little too short and proper, Jehova's witness-style, the tie he wears it with is too wide, the burgundy polo shirt in another scene too shiny. The proportions are off, and so is his behavior.

Not to be forgotten is young Australian actress Rebel Wilson as Malerie, Carson's best friend, who films everything she sees to "soak up the present" and pretends the opening lines of famous novels are her own ("Call me Isabel"). Plus-size, persistent, and not a cliché, in some of her scenes she destabilises her surroundings in a gutsy way.

I asked Colfer, whose next project will have him play a patient in a 1930s asylum, if he sees a kinship between his character Carson, dressed exclusively in colors of the sky, and Veda, the daughter in Mildred Pierce, who wants to escape her family background and can be equally full of herself. He deadpanned with only a moment's hesitation: "Yes, but my character doesn't go to bed with his mother's lover".

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2012
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Struck By Lightning packshot
Even being killed by a bolt of lightning won’t keep Carson Phillips quiet.
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Festivals:

Tribeca 2012
EIFF 2013

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