High school senior Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) is randomly struck and killed by lightning and the rest of the movie is a flashback of his life. He desires to go to Northwestern University in order to one day become the youngest editor for The New Yorker, but so far is having limited success in making those dreams happen.
One day during a writer's club meeting, Malerie Baggs (Rebel Wilson) comes in to get advice about her short stories. Carson tells her not to give up, and says that she can't find the ideas, the ideas have to find her. He later goes to a student council meeting run by head cheerleader Claire Matthews (Sarah Hyland). Claire, as well as everyone in student council, resorts to ignoring him due to his constant objections to their ideas. While Carson's mother Sheryl is picking up several prescriptions, she makes idle small talk with the cheerful new pharmacist April Adams (Christina Hendricks), who is six months pregnant. Carson also visits his grandmother (Polly Bergen), the first person who encouraged his writing, but she doesn't know who he is due to Alzheimer's disease. She tells him her grandson used to be so happy and full of life, but was now his own personal rain cloud.
As Carson is finishing up the school paper late at night, he accidentally catches wealthy student Nicholas Forbes (Carter Jenkins) and flamboyant drama club president Scott Thomas (Graham Rogers) making out in a bathroom stall. Nicholas, horrified, begs Carson not to tell anyone since his rich family would disapprove of his homosexuality. Carson agrees on the condition that they will contribute to the paper until they both graduate. April and Carson's father, Neal visit Neal's lawyer to straighten out some legal issues. April, who had no knowledge about Carson or Sheryl, storms out when she learns Neal is still legally married, and has a child she never knew about. Carson's guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey) informs him that one way to improve his chances of getting into Northwestern is to submit a literary magazine in order to show he can inspire others to write. He gets permission to start the magazine from his conservative principal (Brad William Henke). He announces at a school assembly that all entries will be taken, but later finds the submission box filled with nothing but trash. When Malerie suggests that others will eventually join because Carson convinced Scott and Nicholas to write for the school paper, Carson tells her the real reason behind their participation. She in turn reveals that she caught Claire having sex with Coach Walker (Charlie Finn), who is also the older brother of her boyfriend, Justin (Robbie Amell). Malerie goes on to say how everyone in their school probably has an embarrassing secret that they wouldn't want to get out.
Sheryl has another run-in with April when April recognizes Carson's name on the anti-depressant prescription. She then comes home to Neal and demands to meet his son. During the homecoming parade, Carson is forced to pull the writer's club float himself after the cheerleaders take the car they were assigned. Feeling more humiliated than ever, Carson decides to blackmail several of his peers into writing for the literary magazine. He tricks yearbook president Remy Baker (Allie Grant) into sending him a dirty picture that could ruin her reputation. Together, he and Malerie blackmail fellow school paper members Dwayne (Matt Prokop) for bringing marijuana to school, and goth girl Vicki (Ashley Rickards) for taking BDSM-style pictures that her church-going parents would disapprove of. Carson additionally discovers that supposed foreign exchange student Emilio (Roberto Aguire) is from San Diego, knows only rudimentary Spanish, and is using his faux-exotic charm to seduce women.
During a meeting with the other students and Coach Walker, Carson extorts agreements that everyone must offer something to put in the magazine if they want their secrets to stay quiet. Carson also tells Claire and Coach Walker that they must have each cheerleader and football player submit something as well, as a way to make the issue more popular among the student body.
After school, Carson gets an unexpected call from his father. Neal tells him about April, the baby, and how he wants them to get together soon. When he has dinner with Neal and April, Carson realizes that his father is trying to make himself sound like he has been more present in Carson's life, which quickly results in an argument and Carson storming out. Later, during a student council meeting with the principal, Carson opposes a ban on clothing logos in school. As punishment, the principal revokes all off-campus privileges for students.
During another encounter at the pharmacy, Sheryl explains to April that she gave her husband everything, and was therefore left with nothing when he decided she wasn't enough for him and that just like April, she had a kid to keep him around, but that didn't change anything. Meanwhile, Carson completes the literary magazine, but it flops due to the backlash from the student body. Carson also learns that he was accepted into Northwestern, but since he never confirmed his admission, he must wait to reapply and go to community college in the meantime. Carson assumes his letter was lost in the mail, but after telling his mother, Sheryl admits she threw away his acceptance letter to protect him from her perceived "reality" that his dreams will probably never come true.
While Carson and Malerie pack up the unread literary magazines, Carson asks her why she likes to film everything. Malerie replies that "It doesn't matter if you're stuck in the past or if you're trying to forget the past, what matters is what you do in the present and I try to soak it up." As Malerie is leaving, she asks Carson if he thinks they're friends. He says they're best friends. Carson suddenly decides that there's one story left to write; his own. His voice-over explains how he finally realized that, despite everything he went through, he successfully got the other students to write for the literary magazine, so for the first time in his life, he was truly happy. He is then shown going outside as the thunder starts.
It takes over three days for people to find Carson's body. Many people, including the principal and the students who hated him, come to the funeral. It's shown that Carson did leave an impression on everyone he knew. Malerie takes over as president of the writers' club, while Sheryl visits her mother in assisted care.Chris Colfer as Carson Phillips, the head of the school's writing club. He is disliked, belittled and insulted by his peers, mostly for his sarcastic and dry personality that he gained after his parents' divorce.Allison Janney as Sheryl Phillips, Carson's alcoholic and pill-popping single mother.Christina Hendricks as April, Carson's father's pregnant fiancée.Sarah Hyland as Claire Mathews, the head cheerleader and class president.Carter Jenkins as Nicholas Forbes, a wealthy, closeted gay student.Brad William Henke as Principal Gifford, the school principal.Rebel Wilson as Malerie Baggs, Carson's best friend.Angela Kinsey as Ms. Sharpton, the guidance counselor.Polly Bergen as Grandma, Carson's grandmother who's suffering from Alzheimer's disease.Dermot Mulroney as Neal Phillips, Carson's absent father.Allie Grant as Remy Baker, the editor of the school yearbook.Ashley Rickards as Vicki Jordan, an apathetic goth girl.Robbie Amell as Justin Walker, the captain of the football team.Charlie Finn as Coach Colin Walker, the football coach and Justin’s brother.Roberto Aguire as Emilio LopezMatt Prokop as Dwayne Michaels,Graham Rogers as Scott Thomas, the drama club president.Adam Kolkin as Young Carson Phillips.Michael Van London as Caretaker (uncredited)
He also wrote and sang three songs in the film: "Sound of an Amp", "Downtown" and "Feel Love" © Michael Van London Recordings ASCAP
The film had its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, 2012. The film was released on VOD prior to its theatrical release on January 11, 2013. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 21, 2013.
Struck by Lightning has received mixed reception, holding a Metacritic score of 41, and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27%. The most common complaint from reviewers was the fact that Colfer's character came off as too arrogant and cynical, and didn't manage to be likeable. Many reviews agreed that the dialogue was witty and funny and that the cast gave strong performances. Many critics also praised Colfer's debut as a screenwriter.
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a B−, writing, "After his lofty aspirations to write for The New Yorker are cut painlessly and semi-amusingly short by a freak encounter with lightning, Carson looks back on his so-called life with the gently rueful wisdom that is frequently granted young dead people in flashback tales like this one. The message? Seize the day, kids. There are some real stresses in the fellow's life, many caused by his mess of a drunken single mom (an affecting Allison Janney)."