Raise Your Voice
Terri Fletcher (Hilary Duff) is a normal young teen, who sings in her high school choir. However, she has aspirations to attend a prestigious summer program for singing that is located in Los Angeles, which her overprotective father totally doesn't want her to attend. Unfortunately for all involved, her brother (Jason Ritter, from Joan of Arcadia) is involved in a fatal automobile accident shortly after his high school graduation. However, Terri is accepted into the program, and, knowing her father will not allow her to go, her mom and her hatch a plan where she will go to the program but lie to her father by saying she is spending the summer at her aunt's house, in San Diego (a rather ridiculous contrivance that you just have to accept). Then, she goes to the school, has to overcome a case of stage fright, gets a boyfriend, has a rival, etc. The movie is pretty predictable, and I think you can mentally map out the plot beyond this point.
First, before I discuss the film, let me give a little context. This film was released in 2004, right after the (to now) peak of Hilary Duff's popularity. Lizzie McGuire had ended in 2003, the same year her first album was released with a couple big hit singles. All of the movies she had starred in post-Lizzie had flopped. Basically the Hilary wave had crested, and the backlash had started up, hard. The backlash has as of yet still not ended, as it is now far more fashionable to rag on Hilary Duff than it ever was to actually like her. And, wow did the critics hate this movie. I went to Rotten Tomatoes to investigate the general reception to this movie, only to find out that it sports a hearty 15% fresh rating, which is one of the lowest fresh ratings I've ever seen for a major studio feature film.
Anyways, like I said, I read the reviews and man they are so unfair. The majority of them are just a long, continuous series of cheap shots against Hilary Duff. Most of them scarcely mention the film at all, and about 80% contain unfavorable comparisons to Fame and all of them say or imply that Hilary is a bad singer (specifically mentioning her overprocessed vocals). Most of the reviews also fail to mention, or slough over, the sad emotional core to this movie. It's very sad when her brother dies. She doesn't even get to the music school until about 40 minutes into the movie, the rest is about 15 minutes of set up and about 25 minutes of grieving over her brother's death. Very heavy stuff. The way her reactions to all the subsequent events in the movie are shaped by this event is dealt with in a very heavyhanded way, but I think it works, and at least it tries to deal with more substantial issues than other films of this type. I give it some credit for that.
Well, I like Hilary Duff. I think she deserves her celebrity status. She's not a bad singer, in my opinion, and she's a good actress. I know she might not hold up to the more serious work, like say Scarlet Johannson, but I guarantee that if you put Scarlet in Lizzie McGuire, or, say, this movie, it would decline in quality. Nobody brings the sweet, good-natured charm like Hilary, and that's what this movie calls for. She has the kind of warmth and on-screen chemistry that most actresses would kill for. This film is extremely formulaic but the formulas exist for a reason! Sometimes I find it very comforting and satisfying to watch films where I know what's going to happen and how. Apparently, I'm the only person who is able to discern the differences in quality of films like this, but in this case, the film executes very well. Hilary, like I said, is basically the perfect actress for this movie. The adult cast is mostly filled with accomplished supporting actors, who do very well with the parts they are given. The script isn't great, but it's not a disaster, and the characters are plently likeable. And, hell, the ending, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, kind of hit to me emotionally. What can I say, I'm a softie.
Final Rating: 8/10. Not as good as High School Musical, but if you can appreciate a film that's slightly unoriginal, and very formulaic, this is as good as these kinds of films get. Hilary's best film by far; substantially underrated. In other words, I liked it because it was cute (I've noticed that this is what all of my movie reviews basically boil down to).