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Raise Your Voice

At the rate that she’s putting out movies, they’ll soon be calling the game “Six Degrees of Hilary Duff”. That being the case, it’s statistical fact that one of the many will end up being absolutely incredible. Until that day comes, we’ll have to settle for what we can get. Fortunately Raise Your Voice falls somewhere closer to better than worse.

Given that her Disney beginnings brought with them a singing career, it’s only to be expected that from time to time one of her films would center on the music world. Who knew that it would be more like an annual event. Last year it was The Lizzie McGuire Movie, a strange spinoff film from the TV series. This time around, Raise Your Voice steps up as a Coyote Ugly geared toward the teen crowd.

Terri Fletcher (Hilary Duff) is a small town teenager who loves to sing. Against tremendous odds, she has set her sights set on a summer program at one of LA’s most prestigious and eclectic music conservatories. Before she finds out if she’s been accepted, her ambitious spirit is crushed when a car accident kills her supportive older brother (Jason Ritter). When Terri is accepted into the summer program (thanks to a DVD of Terri’s home performances that her brother secretly sent to the school just before he died), her mother (Rita Wilson) and aunt (Rebecca DeMornay) convince Terri that she should go, and help her deceive her father (David Keith) who is completely against her going to LA.

While it’s hard to believe that a mother would put her 16 year old daughter on a train to LA with no one to meet her when she gets there, that’s exactly how Terri makes her arrival on the LA scene. Once there, she struggles to overcome the tragedy of her brother’s death and rediscover her love of singing. It wouldn’t be a good teen movie without a requisite love interest and a slightly rebellious mentor. Jay (Oliver James), is a rewound teenage reject from the British nineties with a good heart but something of a player reputation. Mr. Torvald (John Corbett) is the quintessential teacher/educated hippy musician who challenges Terri to overcome that which holds her back and become everything she can be.

The rest of the story surrounds Terri’s experiences with her fellow students. The supporting cast members are a real highlight of the movie. Johnny K. Lewis is especially fun to watch as he provides comic relief by practically channeling Mark from Empire Records. The downside is being forced to endure a few pretty good actors doing really terrible jobs of pretending to play musical instruments. Clearly the lack of music videos on MTV is beginning to take its toll. Even though most of the roles seem to be filled by competent musicians, those who have to fake it are just plain embarrassing.

As a twenty something guy sitting in a theater full of teen something girls and their mothers (who were likely there for Hilary Duff and Rita Wilson respectively), I quickly realized two things: I was sorely out of place, they weren’t. This movie is a great choice for the young teen and ‘tween crowds. It sends a positive message about overcoming the tough realities of life and in doing so still manages to avoid insulting your intelligence. It even manages to garner a PG rating without feeling like an episode of “Lizzie McGuire”. In fact, except for Terri’s convenient teenage train hopping around the west coast, it’s a surprisingly believable story. The film’s popular music and young actors are sassy and stylish enough for the younger crowd too. Anyone older will likely be a little moved by the moments surrounding Terri’s brother’s post-mortem influence, but will otherwise, like I, flee the theater when the credits turn into a finale Duff music video.