- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Hilary Duff futures market, which brightened a bit earlier this year with the agreeable “Cinderella Story,” reverts to dim in “Raise Your Voice.”

Future movie scholars researching doctoral theses on the cinema of Miss Duff should take note of an emerging perverse tendency to orphan Miss Duff’s characters. In “Cinderella Story,” she was the slave of a despotic stepmother; in “Raise Your Voice,” she deceives her gruffly protective dad (David Keith) in order to leave home (Flagstaff, Ariz.) for summer school in Los Angeles, abetted by a mother (Rita Wilson) and paternal aunt (Rebecca de Mornay) who prefer deception to persuasion.

Called Terri Fletcher, the heroine is introduced as a beaming fixture of the school chorus and her church choir. Her older brother Paul (Jason Ritter) is a restless graduating senior, inclined to provoke their stick-in-the-mud father. The rebellious lad also anticipates imminent flight from the Fletcher nest. He’s the family Ross McElwee, always hovering about with a tenderly intrusive camera. To advance the plot, he perishes from a collision that leaves Terri, a surviving passenger, in a playing-possum coma for a sequence or two.

Upon recovery, she receives an acceptance letter from the prestigious Bristol-Hillman Music Conservatory in Los Angeles; the late Paul had taken the liberty of mailing an application on the sly. Mother and aunt, a sculptor of industrial-strength abstracts who has a studio in Palm Desert, Calif., believe that three weeks at B-H would be sublimely therapeutic. They urge Terri to attend, camouflaged by a hoax that she’ll be vacationing in the desert with avant-garde Aunt Nina.

The next phase of the movie resembles “Fame” with an L.A. bias. Selected as a promising voice, Terri plunges into rehearsals for classical song recitals but eventually distinguishes herself as a prematurely wailing lady of the blues, introducing a number composed with new boyfriend Jay (Oliver James).

The Jay relationship must overcome a resident vixen named Robin (Lauren C. Mayhew), whose enmity drives Terri into not one but three blubbering flights to her dorm room, where she comforts herself by rashly starting to pack and rashly tearing a diary to shreds.

Although the curriculum is nominally classical, students consistently popify their idiom in one way or another, lest anyone in the audience get the wrong idea about Hilary Duff going highbrow. She needs to solve brow issues of another kind: Her shaggy blonde tresses mask a good deal of facial surface, including her entire forehead, and leave the heaviest features, lips and chin, kind of protruding in a visually monotonous form of portraiture.

This persistently flailing vehicle would have suited a budding musical film star like, say, Judy Garland circa 1936, destined to bust out with gusto all over the place. It falls flat when attached to a thin-voiced aspirant of the current teenage generation, already oversold on meager, underwhelming star potential.

**

TITLE: “Raise Your Voice”

RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and sexual allusions; episodes of domestic conflict and family loss).

CREDITS: Directed by Sean McNamara. Screenplay by Sam Schreiber. Cinematography by John R. Leonetti. Production design by Joseph T. Garrity. Costume design by Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Music by Machine Head.

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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