Big spoilers ahead – as usual!
I usually try to read some good reviewers before going to see new releases. This is because I got fed up with being tricked by slick, exciting, enticing previews that do not reflect the real movie. It’s so enervating to be deceived like that by film marketeers. You watch that 2-minute ad and you are dying to go see the movie. But that’s because they lie! (Cut to scene of black female piano player in Pillow Talk looking at Rock Hudson while she plays). So now I go prepared. No more watch this trailer, oh this looks good, let’s go. I watch the trailer and I think to myself: how much was this little edited excerpt manipulated to look so much better than the real movie? That’s the question you need answered before you go watch anything these days.
So, if it’s already really nice when we get any pleasant surprise in life, it’s super nice if it happens to be a movie, because they are out to trick you.
And that brings me to “Struck by Lightning.” I thought it was quite good! Now, it’s not perfect, but it’s quite amazing in some respects. If you go thinking that this is just another clichéed teenage high school comedy, you’ll be surprised. What I found interesting is that the movie combines some of this silly satire, light humor, and teen age stereotypes and clichés with much more serious content and it works all right; it even sparks reflection and more in-depth questioning. It keeps navigating between the ridiculous and caricatural and drama and serious content and, surprisingly, it ends with up a nice mix. It’s like one of those recipes that mixes these very odd ingredients, but the result works after all, and at times, it ends up refreshing. Another important point, as a reviewer well remarked, this movie is not just comedy and drama, it has tragedy too. It’s important to note that, because that’s quite unusual for your typical teenagy comedy. But because the movie keeps alternating, it doesn’t get too depressing and awful. Until the very end, but even the last blow is a bit softened.
I have to tell you that I got so engrossed with the story that I forgot about the beginning during the movie! That is, I COMPLETELY forgot we had been told that he died! I was picturing him making it to college! That’s how much I was captivated by his quest and the good rythm of the storytelling.
Concerning the acting, as a reviewer (Mozaffar) wrote, “Allison Janney is outstanding, though, showing multiple emotions in any given expression, as a hurt, frightened, worn-out mother.” She IS outstanding, but her character is much more than a worn-out mother, and that’s why her character is great: she is an emotionally cruel, despicable mother. Even if she is not on screen most of the time, she is by far the strongest of all actors in the film. Simply excellent.
Now contrary to all professional reviewers I read on rottentomatoes, I found Carson a very likable character, from the beginning. Ugly duckling against the mean environment all the way. And he stands strong. What’s not to like? And he’s not condescending.
Christina Hendricks was very well cast as well. Actually, Carson’s entire family was well cast (the father, very good “abandon dysfunctional wife” type; the grandmother, perfect – a reviewer said “she couldn’t remember Carson” – well, it’s really stupid to put it as just a memory thing, like forgetting to buy some groceries at the supermarket, when, in fact, she has dementia (or Alzheimer’s)). On the other hand, two of the teenagers were badly cast: Allie Grant (has no place in this movie) and the cheerleader (she needed to have been much more imposing and taller). She’s too small and not only in size. The fat girl, on the other hand, did really well. She has a good personality; she carries her character all the way.
I also thought the ending was very surprising, even if they tell you at the beginning. Because the movie has so much of this fluffy kind of humor along the way, with all the high school movie stereotypes (jocks, cheer leader, teen amusing himself with drugs, the kind of attractive goth girl, etc.), it does not become a heavy, depressing movie. But it ends so badly for the hero. And I was stunned that he didn’t win.
A small problem with the script in terms of reality: the college letter that his mother hides from him. Now what she did is against the law. So maybe, if this was a realistic story, he could have legal recourse against what she did and still have the right to his place in college. Or maybe, even if he legally had the right, a realistic explanation would be that he was too young and lacking support to know or to discover this. In this way, his mother is able to effectively sabotage his enormous achievement.
If I found all the characters in Carson’s dysfunctional family were really well constructed, along with the annoyingly stupid, ditzy career counselor (very nicely played), one character that did not make sense to me was the principal. He is supposed to be a “horrible principal,” but he never does anything that makes him bad. Sure, he was an authority asshat with Carson for punishing all the students because Carson talked back to him as we near the end, but we are supposed to think he is a horrible man/principal long before that. Why? And Carson, inexplicably, when he talks back to the principal, riles against his “oppressive CONSERVATIVE values!” That didn’t make sense at all. What conservative values? And even more so, what OPPRESSIVE conservative values? What Carson is doing throughout the movie actually embodies several conservative values: hard work, self-reliance, resilience, wanting to have good family relationships, being responsible and caring to his mother and grandmother, being independent and a leader, etc. We see how awful his not only broken, but horrendous parents are. Now it’s a conservative value to have solid and loving parents and family. So what is this nonsense about “oppressive conservative” values?
And really, to think that an actor that acts in a series like Glee – which I refuse to watch, given how bad its values are – has actually written a script like this, that’s amazing.
After writing the above, I have just read more reviews about this movie and I have just found out that Chris Colfer, the scriptwriter and “Carson,” has a declared homosexual problem. Oh, the conservative meanies who dare to criticize Colfer’s disoriented and dysfunctional sexuality in real life – that must be what he was talking about regarding “oppressive conservative” values that are never explained. But if you look at all the “bad” teenage characters in the movie, they are bad because they are quite liberal, especially regarding sexuality and relationships, aside from other general defects (being vain, shallow, selfish, anti-studies, etc.). If anything, Carson should have riled against the destructive liberal values that are all around him – yet he doesn’t. And that’s certainly the most fundamental flaw of this movie.