Not Duff Fluff
Anyone who’s lost someone close to them will probably be touched deeply by Raise Your Voice. It’s the story of a teenage girl dealing with feelings of sadness and guilt when the most important person in her life dies in a car accident. I very seldom cry while watching a movie, but this one had me on the verge of tears during several heartbreaking scenes. Who knew “tweeny” idol Hilary Duff could have such a profound effect on me?
On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised at Duff’s power. Tom Long, of the Detroit News, calls this rising young star “The Duffinator.” And even our own ReelTalk critics have been kind to Duff in their reviews of her previous less-than-stellar films. “She’s a cutie pie,” said Adam Hakari (A Cinderella Story); Jeffrey Chen called her “bubbly” (The Lizzie McGuire Movie); and I praised the “flair of her own” she projected in Cheaper by the Dozen.
Clearly, Duff is here to stay. At age 17, she’s already a showbiz veteran. At age 6, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, she and her sister Haylie were touring with a ballet company. Then came television work and her amazing success in Disney’s The Lizzie McGuire Show, followed by the movies already mentioned. Her latest venture as a pop singer has added concerts, videos and albums to an impressive resumé.
While Raise Your Voice shows off Duff’s dramatic and comedic acting talent, the movie falls short where her singing is concerned. We only hear snippets of songs from Duff until the last scene -- and even then the musical accompaniment drowns out her soft voice. The only hint of Duff’s potential comes when her character stands up in a classroom and sings briefly without any background music. It’s a lovely moment ending with passionate, soulful humming by Duff.
Duff portrays Terri Fletcher, a 16-year-old small-town girl who gets accepted into a top-flight summer music program in Los Angeles, primarily because of a DVD her bother (Jason Ritter) submitted as part of her application. Although her father (David Keith) disapproves, Terri finds a way to attend, thanks to her sympathetic mother (Rita Wilson) and understanding aunt (Rebecca De Mornay). While at the summer program, Terri meets a diverse group of budding musical geniuses (a la Camp) and falls for a talented boy from England (Oliver James). Because she’s so different from most of the students and still grieving the death of a loved one, it’s hard for Terri to fit in. Luckily, an unconventional teacher (John Corbett) helps boost her self-esteem.
Not a very complicated plot, I know. However, it’s played out with a great deal of heart. Of course, the camera loves Duff whether she’s smiling or crying -- both of which she does a lot here -- but other cast members also generate considerable appeal for their characters. Corbett‘s (Raising Helen) music teacher comes across as someone who could motivate students with just a kind look; Wilson (Auto Focus) endows the mother with an aura of grace under fire; and Ritter (TV’s Joan of Arcadia) convinced me his character was the world’s best brother.
I also loved the bits of musical numbers interspersed among the film’s many emotional scenes -- and wanted them to be played to completion. But, alas, that’s the new way movie musicals are done today, much to my chagrin. Naturally, I was pleased to see an entire number in the finale, which featured Duff and James belting out “Someone's Watching Over Me.”
If you’ve read this far, you know I don’t consider Raise Your Voice to be the fluff I expected. Instead, it’s a substantive film about surviving tragedy, finding yourself and living your dream. Is it also corny at times? Definitely, but sometimes corn is good for you.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated “PG” for thematic elements and language.)