1 ½ stars (out of 4)
Can we agree--please--as audiences and filmmakers not to buy tickets to or make movies that end with that Last Big Recital, that final round of competition where an underdog rises and is redeemed in the eyes of his or her parents?
You've seen it before, from "Dirty Dancing" and Britney Spears' "Crossroads" to "Get Over It" and now, Hilary Duff's "Raise Your Voice."
The Last Big Recital has become the new Pie in the Face, the new Getting Thrown in the Pool. "Love Actually," "About a Boy" and "School of Rock" have wrung the last useful drops of thematic tension out of this movie trope, and it's time we stood up and said, "no more."
That's not to say, however, that "Raise Your Voice" would be a movie classic minus this one element.
Duff stars as Terri Fletcher, a young teen who survives a car accident that killed her brother. The trauma keeps Terri from singing, her one true love, until she's accepted into a prestigious musical summer program in Los Angeles. Protective dad David Keith refuses to let her go, saying, with pornographic implications, "You know what happens to girls who go to L.A."
And, sure enough, as soon as Terri's mom and aunt (Rita Wilson and Rebecca De Mornay) conspire to send her to the City of Angels, Duff's jacket is stolen, though her innocence is spared. Soon, she's rubbing elbows with Brits and Goths and all sorts of musical weirdoes in candy-colored hairdos geared up to win that $10,000 scholarship awarded at the Last Big Recital.
For Duff, "Raise Your Voice" is an instructive title. Once Disney's reigning princess, the Mouse House ousted her when the actress asked for a salary hike. She's since attempted to pursue her musical career solo, and "Raise Your Voice," in part, serves as a showcase for her vocal talents. But Duff's breathy, diminutive voice can't quite compete with other singing actors around her.
Worst of all, though, is the movie's moral maneuvering. In an effort to offend no one, Duff's character doesn't want to defy her dad, regularly attends church and surely eats all her vegetables. Yes, parents surely want a family film they can take their young daughters to--but not one so bland and colorless..
"Raise Your Voice"
Directed by Sean McNamara; screenplay by Sam Schreiber, based on a story by Mitch Rotter; photographed by John R. Leonetti; production design by Joseph T. Garrity; music by Machine Head; edited by Jeff Canavan; produced by David Brookwell, A.J. Dix, Sean McNamara, Anthony Rhulen, Sara Risher and William Shively. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:43. MPAA rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and language.
Terri Fletcher - Hilary Duff
Jay - Oliver James
Music teacher - John Corbett
Simon Fletcher - David Keith
Kiwi - Johnny K. Lewis
Sloane - Kat Dennings
Frances Fletcher - Rita Wilson
Aunt Nina - Rebecca De Mornay