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Raise Your Voice /

Rated: PG

Starring: Hilary Duff, John Corbett, Rebecca DeMornay, Jason Ritter, Rita Wilson

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Produced by: Sean McNamara, David Brookwell, A.J. Dix, Sara Risher, Anthony Rhulen, William Shively, Rebecca Heller
Written by:
Sam Schreiber
New Line Cinema


Hilary Duff in New Line Cinema's Raise Your Voice
John Corbett in New Line Cinema's Raise Your Voice
Oliver James and Hilary Duff in New Line Cinema's Raise Your Voice

     After seeing A Cinderella Story, I have slowly become gaga over Hilary Duff. In all honesty, I think she has been extremely underestimated by the public and is one of the best teenage performers to ever grace the likes of the silver-screen. Watching Duff act is like a breath of fresh air, pardon the cliché. She is fresh, inventive, creative, original—the list goes on and on. There is something about her bubbly likes that just makes me want to smile. Over the past two months, I’ve bought her posters, CDs, DVDs, you name it. I’ve watched her chat about her life and work on an insane amount of talk shows. I’ve joined one of her fan-site’s message boards.

     Before heading off to school on the day of Raise Your Voice’s release, I danced around to her recently released, self-titled album, in my room, the perkiest a teenage male could ever be. But, I can’t say I didn’t see the poor quality of Raise Your Voice coming. But, as predictable as the awfulness of Raise Your Voice was, I can’t say I was prepared for it.

     In the movie, Duff plays Terri Fletcher, an average teenage girl who has musical aspirations and would like to receive voice-training at a respected school in Los Angeles, over a summer’s time. She applies for a scholarship, despite her father (a truly awful David Keith) not supporting such. She is accepted, but only after she and her brother (Jason Ritter) undergo a car accident when they run a red light. He dies. The event turned Terri off to music, but the scholarship inspires her to immerse herself into the world of singing, once again. Since her father is still disapproving of his daughter moving to L.A. for the summer, Terri and her mother (Rita Wilson) decide to create a plan to fool him. They tell him that she will be staying with her artsy aunt (Rebecca DeMornay) in Palm Desert and they use three-way calling as a plan of diversion. At the music school, she has a small romance with Jay (Oliver James) and is challenged by a music teacher played by John Corbett. Close calls with Dad and a big final singing performance are to be expected.

     Raise Your Voice was probably designed with the sole purpose of boosting Duff’s latest album to the top of the Billboard Charts, as two songs from it are featured in performances in the movie. From that standpoint, I suppose it’s an adequate vehicle for marketing for a much better, artistically pleasing piece of work. Hilary Duff, the CD, is rather brilliant, both atmospheric and moody, juxtaposing beats of tracks and such, transitioning between them with brilliance. Several of the songs on it are modern masterpieces, even if many will deny their genius because they could be considered “uncool”. I wish I could say the same for the movie. It is, on the other hand, as unoriginal and blasé as the medium of film comes. Most every part of it could be considered a disastrous failure.

     Most of Raise Your Voice’s problems do not come as a result of several terrible supporting performances or the inappropriate hyperkinetic, music-video-like direction. It is Sam Schreiber’s abominable, loathsome screenplay that really doesn’t sit with me. I, unlike many, can accept the fact that the story is conventional: I have nothing against the entire “follow your dreams” theme. If done well with the correct amount of spice, even clichés can seem fresh, and make for an enjoyable motion picture. However, Shreiber leaves so many open ends and contradictions in his script, you would think him to be working with revelatory, complex material. This all goes without mentioning the cheesy lines (“This place is the scariest, hardest, best thing that has ever happened to me.”), some of which really made me want to slap myself in the face.

     One of the tackiest elements of Shreiber’s work and his director, Sean McNamara’s, lies in the continuity in the romance between Terri and Jay. At the end of the movie, I questioned if what they had together, throughout the duration, could even be called a relationship. In one of the scenes in the movie, Terri sees Jay kissing his ex-girlfriend (the pathetic “I wasn’t kissing her! She was kissing me!” cliché is explored here). She cries and does not understand his behavior. Yet, two scenes later, everything is okay between them. They never discuss the event again. In a good movie, this could function as a symbol of denial and repellence in a relationship. In Raise Your Voice, it’s a sign of a screenwriter and a director not knowing where they want their characters to go, before they have to reach a conclusion. Because Terri and Jay have to play a song together at the end of the movie, her feelings for him must be patched by the time that moment comes.

     The thing that stumps me the most about the movie, though, regards Terri’s fellow students. They are attending a music school, and yet they have no apparent passion for their work beyond that of “Hey, c’mon! Jump in!” They play their instruments and sing for hours on end and they don’t even seem to really like what they’re doing, or have any attachment towards such. We get the sense that the school Terri attends could be one which focuses anything: the characters aren’t exactly what you would call plausible music-types. In a solid movie about rhythms and beats (Mr. Holland’s Opus), the notes are a commonplace in the plot. Raise Your Voice abuses the art-form to allow its conventions to progress.

     I’m willing to go wherever Duff takes me; she is wonderful. Even if I did have to sit through the triteness of Raise Your Voice, I remain one of her most avid fans. The day that she finds the stability in her career to abandon her target audience of ‘tweenage girls, I will be enlightened. But, she does what she does well, without a doubt. Never in my dreams did I think something like The Lizzie McGuire Movie would deserve a perfect score on my ratings scale, but, because of her, that surprising moment came. Thankfully, Raise Your Voice is forgettable and breezy enough that it will leave Duff’s resume unharmed. As sad as I am that it has only made $4.6 million in its opening weekend, at least people will not be remembering her for it. As an artist, she can take criticism when her films are just plain bad. Raise Your Voice, even with few aspirations, is, unfortunately, exactly this.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (10.10.2004)

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