Film — Raise Your Voice (PG)
Raise Your Voice (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Hilary Duff overcomes the tragic loss of her older brother but not the tragically bad plot or dialog in the grating Raise Your Voice.

On the bright side, what with all the Jesus-related product placement, Iím sure Miss Duff got herself a nice check from God. Or maybe they have a deal where Heíll promote her next album on his talk show.

Terri Fletcher (Duff) is just a small-town Flagstaff, Arizona, girl but she has a great big voice. And big dreamsónamely, going to a super-competitive music school in L.A. for a month one summer. But her dad (David Keith), a small-town guy with small-town fears about the big city, isnít having any of that hopes-and-dreams garbage. He wants his Terri to stay right there. Though Terriís mother (Rita Wilson) is quietly on Terriís side, itís Terriís brother (Jason Ritter) who takes action. He sends the school a creepy DVD he made of his sister, among other things, singing into her brush like itís a microphone and composing her songs with a keyboard.

So admiring of his sister is brother Paul that he takes a few moments to send off the disc just before the two head out to a Three Days Grace concert, on the way home from which Paul is horribly killed in a car accident. Terri, though knocked around a bit, wakes up from the accident all sullen and disinterested in singing, even when her acceptance letter to the school comes in the mail. But Mom, she says, Dad will never let me go. Thatís OK, her mom says, weíll tell him an unnecessarily complex lie; now, go get your groove back.

Once at the school, our shrinking small-town violet has a hard time fitting in with all her arts classmates. Her sassy black roommate Denise (Dana Davis) is focused on winning the big scholarship at the end of the summer. And last yearís queen bee Robin (Lauren C. Mayhew) is too busy protecting her status to be friends with anyone. Of course, one of the things Robin is trying to protect is her relationship with Jay (Oliver James), a song-writing British bad boy who now has an eye for Terri. Can Terri get over her sadness in time to win the boy, the scholarship and her fatherís approval?

Though set in Arizona, the movieís earlier scenes play like they take place in Mayberry, circa before color television. Honestly, Arizona is as Starbucksed and TheGap-ized as any place in the vast suburban West. And, it has plenty of diversity in terms of socio-economic levels, which is why Terriís eye-popping gaze at the mean streets of L.A. is not only hokey but absurd. Sheís stunned when she leaves her jacket on a railing at LAX, walks away for a few moments and returns to find it missing. Right, because you can just leave you crap in the middle of the street in Flagstaff and none of the yokels will think to steal it.

Perhaps someone thought all this innocence would come off as refreshing. It doesnít. Thereís naive and then thereís socially retarded. Terriís from Arizona, not Amish country. All the wide-eye duh-ness makes the character seem unnecessarily idiotic. And, considering that Duffís acting range seems to be smile or frozen (with little change in voice), Terri really doesnít need any additional help in that area.

Which brings me back to all the God-stuff, the scenes of Terri in church or clutching the cross her brother used to wear (which she touches every time she thinks of him, just in case the hammer-to-the-brain dialog is too subtle). What makes these scenes so cloying is how they appear to serve as a replacement for having Duff show emotion. Itís as though the director said ďHuh, she canít act but I need to make her look contemplative. I know, Iíll put her in a church.Ē

Failing on every level of movie-making, even by tween-flick standards, Raise Your Voice would be better off staying silent.

Showing at: Cinemagic, Flagship Cinemas.

- Amy Diaz 

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