"Raise Your Voice" -- that's the admonition that beleaguered heroine Hilary Duff struggles mightily to adhere to in the course of this teen heart-tugger. The filmmakers make a big show of striving for sincerity and substance, but they so load the dice that their movie is heavy-going from start to finish. Their best hope is to connect with teens who believe that no one seems to understand the burden they carry, and who also happen to be among Duff's fans. Pretty, eager-to-please Flagstaff, Ariz., high school student Terri Fletcher (Duff) sings in the choir and craves to attend the summer music program at a Los Angeles conservatory described as "the most celebrated summer music program in the country."
But her Neanderthal of a father (David Keith) is having none of it. He points out that Terri is only 16 -- and that everybody knows what can happen to 16-year-old girls in Los Angeles. Clearly, the father's word is law in the Fletcher household. (It's something of a miracle he allows Terri to use lip gloss.)
When a tragedy strikes the family, Terri's mother (Rita Wilson) and her sister-in-law (Rebecca De Mornay) are determined that Terri participate in the summer program after all. Although the nature of the tragedy gives them every reason in the world to stand up to Fletcher, all they're prepared to do is persuade him to allow Terri to spend the summer with her aunt in Palm Desert -- giving her the opportunity to sneak off to the conservatory.
So off Terri goes to L.A., loaded with guilt stemming from the tragedy, forced to lie to her father and then faced with the challenge of excelling in the highly competitive atmosphere of the conservatory, which has but one $10,000 scholarship to bestow upon whoever is deemed the best student.
Writer Sam Schreiber and director Sean McNamara, working from a story by Mitch Rotter, lay it on too thick, making Duff toil away at a seeming highly vulnerable yet dogged game. They also overdo the father, who's not merely thickheaded, ultra-conservative and bitter over forsaking a UCLA football scholarship to run the family restaurant but possessive of Terri to a degree that is downright creepy. They don't address this possibly incestuous aspect ofthe father, who is nonetheless played with admirable conviction by Keith. Wilson and De Mornay are left to bring as much dimension as possible to underdeveloped roles. Also making an impression is John Corbett as the conservatory's free-spirited instructor.
The film's strongest asset is its use of attractive locales, particularly those in Flagstaff. It also highlights the chateau-esque Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Residence in Los Angeles, which serves as an ideal setting for a conservatory.
'Raise Your Voice'
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements and language.
Times guidelines: Suitable for older youngsters.
Hilary Duff...Terri Fletcher
David Keith...Simon Fletcher
Rita Wilson...Francis Fletcher
Jason Ritter...Paul Fletcher
A New Line Cinema presentation in association with FilmEngine, a Chickflicks, Filmengine and Brookwell McNamara Entertainment production. Director Sean McNamara. Producers Sara Risher, David Brookwell, Sean McNamara, Anthony Rhulen, A.J. Dix. Executive producers Toby Emmerich, Mark Kaufman, Matt Moore, William Shively, Avram Butch Kaplan. Screenplay by Sam Schreiber; based on a story by Mitch Rotter, Cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Editor Jeff W. Canavan. Music Machine Head. Costumes Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Production designer Joseph T. Garrity. Art director Gary Myers. Set decorator Melissa Levander. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. In general release.