Raise Your Voice

Movie Information

Genre: Teen Idol Fantasy Vehicle
Director: Sean McNamara
Starring: Hilary Duff, Oliver James, John Corbett, Rita Wilson, Rebecca De Morany, David Keith
Rated: PG

Hilary Duff’s latest vehicle ought to be a hearse carrying the ashes of her career.

OK, I admit I’m not a fan. But I did opine that most of what was wrong with her previous film, A Cinderella Story, (and there was plenty) wasn’t her fault. And while there are some problems with Raise Your Voice that can’t be laid at her feet, this witless farrago is so determinedly a showcase for Duff’s “talents” that it might fairly be blamed on her.

What puzzles me most is the claim that La Duff is a “teen sensation,” something that hardly lines up with the sparsely attended showings of Raise Your Voice. Then again, I am informed that Taxi‘s Jimmy Fallon is Saturday Night Live‘s “only certified sex symbol.” In both cases, I detect the strong whiff of a publicist’s wishful thinking.

In any case, the real scent here is the stench of this brutally bad movie, which is basically a Lysol-soaked rip-off of Alan Parker’s Fame. It’s interesting, too, that the 24-year-old Parker film now looks a bit quaint, in that it takes place at a school for the performing arts that appears to possess exactly one gay student (what are the odds?). In the case of the Duffster knock-off, the gay population is reduced by one.

Of course, realism is not the order of the day in this Barbie’s Performing Arts School play-set of a movie. Let’s start with the set-up of having Terri Fletcher (Duff) as the nearly platinum-blond daughter of brunettes Simon (Keith) and Frances (Wilson) Fletcher, and brother of the even darker-haired Paul Fletcher (Ritter). Duff is so blonde that all I could think of was Elizabeth Patterson’s comment on Mae West in Go West, Young Man: “In my day, women with hair that color didn’t come out in the daytime.”

The only reasonable explanation is that she’s the love child of her Aunt Nina (De Mornay) and a milkman. After all, Nina is a shameless Bohemian artist who drinks wine, has boyfriends, and crafts large, incomprehensible metal statues with an unladylike blowtorch. However, the film isn’t going there, even if it is perfectly comfortable with a truly creepy undercurrent that hints brother Paul is a little too attached to his sister.

That doesn’t matter anyway, I guess, since he dies in a car crash early on, setting up a hysterically bad trauma for Terri, who henceforth sees headlights heading toward her every time she’s in a spotlight, which is very inconvenient for a performer. (And there’s no truth to the rumor that, upon Paul’s demise, I’m the one who cried out, “They killed the wrong character!”)

The death is basically a plot device, since it so depresses Terri that she stops singing. (Having sat through Duff’s opening-credits rendition of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” I didn’t consider this a big loss.) To correct this tragedy, Paul veritably reaches out from beyond the grave, when a DVD he made of Terri brushing her hair in the bathroom tips the scales in her favor at the music school admissions office.

Pulling the wool over Disapproving Dad’s eyes, Terri sneaks off to the school in Los Angeles under cover of a ridiculous story about staying with Aunt Nina. Of course, Terri is the fish out of water in a sea of pierced and tattooed artistic types, but true talent — provided by a lot of overdubbing and sound enhancement of Duff’s breathy little voice — will win out in the end.

And, of course, Dad will see the error of his ways, Terri will find her first romance (it doesn’t bother her that her swain dumps his previous girlfriend because she’s so “last summer”), and everyone turns out to be “just folks” after all.

It’s every bit as bad as it sounds, and possibly worse. The movie missed its best chance for redemption when the oh-so-understanding music teacher (Corbett) had advice for Terri consisting of “two words.” I really hoped he was going to say, “Lindsay Lohan,” but, alas, it was not to be.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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