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Movie Info


PG for thematic elements and language


October 8, 2004


Drama, Romance


Hilary Duff, Jason Ritter, John Corbett, Oliver James, Rebecca De Mornay, David Keith


Sam Schreiber


Sean McNamara


New Line Cinema


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Raise Your Voice

By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter - Most films nowadays are made with an intended audience. Adolescent males who enjoy seeing things souped up, blown up, or gobbled up are generally those courted first by movie studios. But teen and preteen girls, once very much neglected by Hollywood, have finally convinced the film industry that they will buy just as much popcorn as their male counterparts. After the success of Mean Girls, Lizzie McGuire: The Movie, and at least four recent Cinderella rip-offs, producers are now confident that the “Tween Girls Rule” genre is alive and well. So here’s another film with them in mind.

Hilary Duff stars as Terri Fletcher, a small-town girl who aspires to a big-time singing career. When a personal tragedy interrupts her steady life, Terri defies her father’s wishes and secretly heads off to a Los Angeles performing arts summer school. But the school brings a whole new set of challenges for Terri, who suddenly finds herself part of a highly competitive program in an intimidating new city. Though initially overwhelmed by her new surroundings, Terri rises to the occasion with the help of some newfound friends, an encouraging teacher, a first love, and faith.

Although I suspect anyone not into all things Duff may find it less than satisfying, teenaged girls who have grown up with Lizzie McGuire will love it. And why not? Young girls will either relate to the lead character’s adolescent frustrations or want to relate to her charms (Miss Lizzie has not only blossomed, she simply cannot be badly photographed).

A bit shallow for adults, but for its intended audience, the film successfully addresses several poignant issues, including standing up for yourself and drawing from a spiritual core when facing life’s realities. And while the film is gratefully far from the likes of Thirteen, it is a touch edgier than previous Hilary Duff efforts due to fact that the main character deals with the guilt of her brother’s death and the deceiving of her domineering father.

In the story, Terri (Hilary) must either go along with a sneaky plan formulated by her aunt and mother in order to get into the prestigious academy, or give up her dream and stay home with an overprotective father. Parents may initially fear that this premise condones lying to authority figures. What we must realize, however, is that without some conflict in a movie there would be no drama. But Terri is not a wiseacre Ferris Bueller-type who takes pleasure in pulling one over on bumbling parents. Rather, the character feels remorse throughout the film for her deception and ultimately the truth is faced. What’s more, the picture is actually addressing this moral issue. With any luck, family members will be reminded of the importance of communication.

The most satisfying moments for this old fogy weren’t in the final musical showdowns, but in the three or four subtle moments that reflected the family’s spiritual direction. At least twice, we see Terri go to church by herself; we even see her pray. (When’s the last time you saw that in a film aimed at juveniles?) Other times we see her singing in choir and rehearsing the "Hallelujah Chorus". Also she wears and clings to a cross left to her by her beloved brother. (When asked why it’s a Celtic cross, the director, a practicing Catholic, gave a concise explanation by simply repeating his entire name -- Sean Patrick Michael McNamara.)

Although Ms. Duff’s voice is still paper-thin, the film is full of lively and often joyous music, with positive lyrics – follow your heart – don’t give up – I’ll be strong – believe in yourself.

The actors give bright, sincere performances, and though somewhat linear and unsophisticated, Mr. McNamara’s direction is effective at keeping the narrative from becoming maudlin or sugary while never condescending to his intended audience. Add to that the fact that he has avoided the usual crudity found in most youth-oriented flicks and you have a funny, family-friendly film.

As for its star, Ms. Duff is beginning to outgrow her Lizzie-isms, showing signs of becoming a real actress. Having grown up on sound stages, Hilary has become close friends with movie cameras. Indeed, she may be the most photogenic child star since the young Elizabeth Taylor. She is a beauty and will no doubt be a gorgeous woman in a few years. But all too often actresses become overly conscious of their looks (especially when they’re only sixteen), which can limit acting muscles. No acting career survives on cuteness alone. Sincerity and truth are found under the skin. Therefore, if Ms. Duff’s management wants her to survive a fickle positioning on Hollywood’s wobbly celebrity rung, then its time to focus more on thespian skills than exploitive promoting. Though she is fine in this film, I would suggest she actually attend a performing arts school.

As for the film – it’s terrific for teens and tweens.

Rating: PG -- Though I caught no harsh or profane language other than a few minor expletives, the expression “Oh my God” now a common euphemism among the young, is used frequently. A male student gets drunk, but is chastised by the lead for his behavior. One scene features a teen couple passionately kissing, then suddenly drops out of camera, presumably to further their new-found feelings. This is not the main couple. The lead is cautious and it is clear that she is not rushing into a relationship. A lie is at the center of the film’s premise, but it sets up the moral question. A car crash leads to the death of a family member. The director handles this situation and all the material with discretion.

Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. Review used by permission. Go to Phil Boatwright's website at for details on how to have reviews of new films delivered directly to your e-mail address.

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