In Raise Your Voice, Hilary Duff (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, A Cinderella Story) plays Terri Fletcher, an Arizona teen who longs to be-you guessed it-a singer. She's a faithful member of her church choir and an obedient daughter-unlike her rebellious brother (Jason Ritter, Joan of Arcadia) who constantly clashes with their strict father (David Keith, Daredevil). When Terri is accepted into a summer program at a Los Angeles performing arts school, her father forbids her to go, but after personal tragedy strikes, Terri lies to her father and takes off for LA with the help of her mother (Rita Wilson, Runaway Bride) and her artsy Aunt Nina (Rebecca De Mornay, Identity).

Hilary Duff plays Terri, a teenage girl determined to follow her musical dreams

Hilary Duff plays Terri, a teenage girl determined to follow her musical dreams

Terri's life soon gets complicated as she struggles to keep up her deception while trying to fit in with some very talented and competitive students. A scholarship will be awarded at the end of the summer, and most of the students want the money more than they want to make friends. Intimidated, Terri struggles to even squeak out her first solo with the whole class watching. In time, she gains confidence and starts to make friends, including Jay (Oliver James, What a Girl Wants), whose jealous ex-girlfriend is also a fellow student. John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Raising Helen) serves as Terri's teacher, mentor and friend, and the film's message of following your dreams and reaching for the stars is infused into every scene and musical number.

Jay (Oliver James) and Terri (Duff) make, uh, beautiful music together

Jay (Oliver James) and Terri (Duff) make, uh, beautiful music together

Raise Your Voice is a scrubbed-up Fame redux that gives the 17-year-old Duff the opportunity to continue developing her acting skills while showcasing her vocal chops. What's unique about this mostly predictable movie is its goodness and its nods toward faith and family when it could have so easily gone the other way. Writer Sam Schreiber made a point of incorporating elements of faith into the script, including a cross pendant Terri wears and relies on for comfort throughout the film. There is also a powerful scene in which Terri, turning to her faith in a time of crisis, goes to a church to pray.

Director Sean McNamara (TV's That's So Raven, Even Stevens), a devoted Catholic, made sure that the character's faith in God was an important part of the plot. He also chose numerous sacred and contemporary Christian songs to help propel the story forward. His own church choir, St. Agatha's in Los Angeles, is featured on the soundtrack. McNamara dedicated the film to his mother, who passed away during pre-production of the film. Crediting her support for his own success, he changed the film's original location from New York to Los Angeles so he could feature places that had been special to her. This kind of warmth is reflected in a film that touches on some difficult subjects without losing its sweetness.

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Mr. Torvald (John Corbett) is Terri's teacher, friend and mentor

Mr. Torvald (John Corbett) is Terri's teacher, friend and mentor

At 16, Duff carries off the lead role with confidence and grace, exuding a kind of fresh-faced naiveténot often found in other young female stars these days. The plot has its weak moments, and the group performances sometimes come off as forced, but overall the film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: inspire. In a sea of teen movies not fit for adults, much less teens, this is a movie I would feel comfortable taking my 14-year-old niece to, and that's a good thing indeed.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What made Terri decide to lie to her father? Is it acceptable to lie if it's for a good reason? Does her dad's unreasonable attitude make it OK to lie? Why or why not?

  2. In what ways did the death of a family member contribute to Terri's decision to run away? Was her reaction to the death reasonable?

  3. Why was Terri's father so strict? What was his motivation, and should he have handled things differently? Was it wrong to want to protect his daughter?

  4. Terri's mother and aunt helped with the deception. What kind of message did that send to Terri? Who should bear the greater blame for the lie, Terri, or the adults who helped her?

  5. Terri had the opportunity to get into a physical relationship with her new boyfriend, but chose not to. What kinds of things can young girls say when presented with a similar situation? What guidelines should they keep in mind?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

This movie is rated PG. Overall it is a family-oriented film, and suited for pre-teens and tweens. Though it is slightly edgier than what one might expect from Hilary Duff, it is exceptionally tame in comparison to most teen films. A few things take place that may require some discussion afterward, including: a few minor expletives; a suggestion of sex; lying to a parent; an instance of drunkenness; and a fatal car crash which fades to white.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 10/14/04

Is there any moviegoing target audience that Hollywood pursues more aggressively than teenage girls? The last two years has felt like a "princess parade," with The Princess Diaries, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Freaky Friday, Ella Enchanted, Mean Girls, A Cinderella Story, and First Daughter. Tabloids hype up a "rivalry" between teen screen queens Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan. And the box office shows that audiences aren't yet weary of fashion plate heroines fighting their way to the top of their class or into a royal inheritance.

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In Raise Your Voice, Terri Fletcher (Duff) is an aspiring singer who faces more realistic challenges than those conquered by other recent heroines. While still recovering from the shock of a death in the family, Terri gets an offer from a Los Angeles music school. Her father forbids it, but she pursues it anyway, only to find that her dream isn't going to be achieved easily.

The fact that Terri's a Christian girl is pleasing several Christian film critics, but the fact that she defies her father's authority is bothering others.

"The plot has its weak moments, and the group performances sometimes come off as forced, but overall the film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: inspire," says Joan Brasher (Christianity Today Movies). "In a sea of teen movies not fit for adults, much less teens, this is a movie I would feel comfortable taking my 14-year-old niece to, and that's a good thing indeed." (Brasher talked with the film's director, Sean McNamara, about his willingness to feature details of Terri's faith in his storytelling.)

Rhonda Handlon (Plugged In) compliments Terri's relatively clean character, who "loves deeply, encourages the underdog, is hard-working and committed, doesn't smoke or drink, and keeps the guy-girl thing pure." But then she asks, "So does that excuse the big, black, ugly blot of deception that runs through her film? Because there are no real consequences experienced by either Terri or her co-conspirators, the message to young filmgoers is that it's okay to pursue your dreams at any cost."

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says it's "the perfect vehicle for Duff … who loves to both act and sing. In Raise Your Voice, she gets to do both, and Duff fans will no doubt love it. McNamara … puts together some impressive musical sets. The rhythm is infectious." (Vaughn also interviewed McNamara.)

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says it "makes up for its lack of originality with its positive message and effervescent performance by … Duff. While laden with cliché s and schmaltzy follow-your-heart speeches, Raise Your Voice is the kind of uplifting movie that would pass the test of most parents. Family and faith are presented in a positive light and the picture avoids the prurience of most teen movies."

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Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says Duff's fans "may be surprised by the heavily emotional themes of Raise Your Voice. Hilary shows surprising growth as an actress." But there are problems as well. "McNamara … utilized his television experience to complete this shoot under a very tight 30-day schedule—and it unfortunately shows. Plot developments and character arcs feel rushed and superficial."

"Other films … have captured the feeling brilliantly—like FameDead Poet's Society … or Amadeus," says Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus). "Raise Your Voice updates this theme for the next generation, and in ways that many will find equally satisfying."

Michael Smith (Hollywood Jesus) says it's not just for teens. "Adults will like and learn from Raise Your Voice, too. It is by and large a wholesome movie, neither preachy nor improbable. What this film does best … is show that doing your best gets a great boost from a combination of faith, family, and friends."

Lacey Mical Callahan (Christian Spotlight) argues, "It could have been done better, but it is not entirely a waste of time. Older teens may enjoy it, though armed with biblical knowledge they will discard the ideas presented as humanistic mire."

Phil Boatwright (CBN) says it's "a bit shallow for adults, but for its intended audience, the film successfully addresses several poignant issues, including standing up for yourself and drawing from a spiritual core when facing life's realities. The actors give bright, sincere performances, and … McNamara's direction is effective at keeping the narrative from becoming maudlin or sugary while never condescending to his intended audience."

He adds, "Though [Duff] is fine in this film, I would suggest she actually attend a performing arts school."

While Duff is raising her voice, most mainstream critics are throwing rotten tomatoes.

Raise Your Voice
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(2 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for thematic elements and language)
Directed By
Sean McNamara
Run Time
1 hour 43 minutes
Hilary Duff, John Corbett, Rebecca De Mornay
Theatre Release
October 08, 2004 by New Line Cinema
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