An average Voice

Have you ever heard a story in which a teen loses a relative and sets off to a music school with a guilty conscience? How about one about a teen who, despite a parent’s disapproval, sets off to follow his or her dreams? Of course you have. These two clichés are interwoven in the unoriginal Hilary Duff teen drama Raise Your Voice.

After the tragic death of her supportive brother (Jason Ritter), Terri Fletcher (Duff) is shocked to discover she has been accepted into the esteemed Bristol-Hillman Music Conservatory. She decides to secretly attend the school with the help of her mother (Rita Wilson) and her aunt (Rebecca De Mornay), despite her father’s (David Keith) disapproval.

While there, she becomes involved with a student (Oliver James) and faces the school’s resident mean girl (Lauren Mayhew). Along the way, the film takes some very predictable turns.

Duff, continuing her current string of teen films (A Cinderella Story), gives perhaps one of her best performances. Though her undeniable charm still takes center stage, she provides a glimpse of genuine acting skill, especially when memories of her brother’s death begin to surface.

Perhaps this film will be her first baby step to achieving credibility as an actress. Director Sean McNamara, who also appears briefly as a doctor, gave Duff her first starring role in the straight-to-video Casper Meets Wendy, and he centers this film on Duff’s strengths, namely her ability to play the cute, insecure girl next door and her popular singing voice. In a prime example of marketing synergy, her latest album, the aptly titled Hilary Duff, is also in stores.

Though the film is primarily a vehicle for Duff, the rest of the film’s cast is sufficient, if not memorable.

This is no fault of the performers, including John Corbett, Johnny K. Lewis, Mayhew and James, who do the best they can with the cliché characters of the inspirational teacher, the goofy oddball, the snotty queen bee, and the reformed bad boy, respectively. The script relies too heavily on established plotlines rather than taking a tired premise into a new direction.

Kudos must be given to the writers, though, for attempting to infuse some small portion of heart into the cookie-cutter teen genre. Raise Your Voice is most interesting during its emotional high points. If the story had focused more on the drama of Terri’s situation and less on her infatuation with the cute British piano player (James), it may have been a better, more believable movie.

On a positive note, the film sends young viewers a favorable message about following your dreams and realizing your potential. The music in the film is entertaining and the humor is abundant.

Though the film has not one original bone in its metaphorical body, it still retains a charm and sweetness thanks largely in part to its leading lady.

Hopefully Duff’s career can deliver on the promise that was merely hinted at in this film.