Once, like the lead character in his new movie, Brian Dannelly was a wide-eyed, ambitious high school senior itching to find adventure in the big world.
Unlike his character, Dannelly was lucky.
Dannelly's new film, "Struck By Lightning," which will have a special showing Thursday in Laguna Beach, tells the story of a 12th-grader who is annihilated by a lightning bolt in the school parking lot. The rest of the film tells his story in flashback — about how he spent weeks trying to assemble a campus literary magazine, even blackmailing popular kids into contributing pieces in hopes that the resulting journal could help get him into Northwestern University.
High school life has provided rich source material for Dannelly, who directed the 2004 teen comedy "Saved!" So what is it about those adolescent years — one 20th of a typical life span, to put them in perspective — that proves so resonant?
"I think it's just a microcosm for the world," Dannelly said. "It's inescapable. It's the first time you started thinking about your future and falling in love and trying to find yourself. Everything's just slightly more rough than when you get out."
Those seeking more insights from Dannelly, adolescent and otherwise, can visit the Laguna Art Museum on Thursday evening, as the Laguna Beach Film Society will host a reception and screening for "Struck By Lightning." The director will be on hand to answer questions about the film, which stars screenwriter Chris Colfer as the ill-fated senior.
Keiko Beatie, the curator of the film society, is a longtime friend of Dannelly and invited him for the screening. "Struck By Lightning" is scheduled to go into general release next year after a series of film festival showings.
Beatie said the film may resonate particularly with viewers in wake of recent discussions about combating bullying in schools — not to mention the documentary "Bully," which became a hit last year.
"I've always been consciously aware of kids in high school who feel like they don't fit in," said Beatie, whose film society has operated for 11 years. "It's a very difficult time."
Dannelly, who has also worked on the television show "Weeds," may get some admirers in the Laguna crowd, but he's ready in case anyone is offended. When "Saved!", which deals with issues of homosexuality and teen pregnancy at a Christian high school, played at a festival years ago, Dannelly said, a woman became so offended by the film that she found him after the screening and slapped his face.
"There were people who had trouble with it," he said. "But it gets screened at Christian high schools every year."
Will "Struck By Lightning" rouse controversy too? Maybe not the same kind, but Dannelly admitted that his protagonist, who resorts to deception to break out of his low social status on campus, isn't the most lovable hero around. Still, he noted that anyone who had a rough time in high school may be able to relate to his plight.
"He's pretty strong-willed, and I think as he goes through his journey, as you learn more and more about the character, I think the audience grows more sympathetic toward him," Dannelly said.
If You Go
What: Laguna Beach Film Society presents "Struck By Lightning"
Where: 6 p.m. reception Thursday at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach; 7 p.m. screening at Laguna South Coast cinema, 162 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
Cost: Free to members of the Laguna Beach Film Society; for non-members, $20 for screening and reception; $8 presale, $10 at the door, $5 for students for screening only
Information: (949) 494-8971 or lagunaartmuseum.org