When lexicographers define "Duff" as "partially decayed organic matter," Judge Patrick Bromley thinks they're being way too charitable.
Don't hold back. Don't give up.
Hilary Duff grows up. And sucks.
Facts of the Case
Terri Fletcher (Stepford teen Hilary Duff, A Cinderella Story) has big dreams: She wants to make music (okay, so maybe they're not that big). She spends nights in her bedroom composing songs on her keyboard, dreaming of making it out of her dead-end town—Can you believe it? The same girl who has big dreams just happens to live in a dead-end town!—and going to California to spend a summer at a prestigious Performing Arts School. The trouble is, her blue-collar / salt-of-the-earth Dad (David Keith, Daredevil) won't hear of it—especially after the unexpected (that is, unexpected for someone who has never seen a movie) death of her older brother, Paul (Jason Ritter, Freddy vs. Jason). What's a girl to do?
Simple, really! Conspire with Mom (an embarrassed-looking Rita Wilson, Auto Focus) and set up an elaborate lie that you'll be staying with your "cool" Aunt Nina (a reconstructed-looking Rebecca De Mornay, once hot in Risky Business) in Arizona for the summer. Really, though, you're attending that Performing Arts School (oh, right—your brother secretly sent in a video application and got you in before, you know, dying) in Los Angeles, getting yourself a sassy black roommate (Dana Davis, Coach Carter, forced to utter lines that would make the token black guy in Not Another Teen Movie blush), an unorthodox teacher (Sex and the City's John Corbett) who unlocks your hidden potential, and a blonde-tipped British boyfriend (Oliver James, who between this film and What a Girl Wants might be the only man alive who can tell us if Amanda Bynes is a better kisser than The Duff) who's even slightly less talented than you are!
Raise Your Voice, girl!
I want to be nice. I don't want to be the guy who kicks the puppy or pops the baby's balloon. I don't want to be a bad sport. And, yet, there's just something about Hilary Duff's latest movie, Raise Your Voice, that brings it out of me. It's not a mean-spirited movie, nor is it a particularly cynical one, but for some reason I grow more and more hostile towards it the more time I spend with it. I can't explain it. This movie makes me angry.
It took a modicum of restraint not to go for easy laughs in my recent review of The Lizzie McGuire Show Boxed Set: Volume One—to tear apart its simple-minded sweetness from a too-cool distance (and demonstrating that I'm too cool for Lizzie McGuire actually proves nothing, as I believe nothing less is expected of me). But where would that get any of us? The only way to approach it is on the level for which it's intended. The series was an inoffensive trifle—a show about a 12-year-old girl made for other 12-year-old girls. No harm, no foul.
Well, the age of both the movie's participants and the audience has increased with Raise Your Voice, and the gloves are off. Sour grapes? Maybe, but I'd like to think that my objections to the movie are legitimate. I'm sticking to my own rules, approaching the movie on the level for which it's intended—it's just that on that level, it still fails. This is a "music" movie that doesn't seem to know the first thing about music. A drama without an ounce of genuine emotion. A star vehicle without the good sense to know said star's strengths (though, in this case, there simply may not be any—in which case, the movie still fails but never stood a chance). The film wears its school-for-gifted-arts-students formula with foolish pride, utterly oblivious to the notion that We've Seen It All Before. At least Alan Parker's Fame, and even to a lesser extent Nicholas Hytner's more recent Center Stage, showcased actors who had talent in the requisite areas—as flat and lifeless as I found Center Stage, at least those kids could really dance.
The biggest problem with Raise Your Voice? Sorry to say it, but it's Hilary Duff. She's not a singer. I know legions of young ladies and Billboard album sales charts will disagree with me, but she's no more a singer than Scott Baio or Kim Fields or Alyssa Milano or any number of the marginally talented TV actors of Yesterday who equated teen worship with pop stardom, thus releasing records doomed to be lost to garage sales and kitsch collectors. Sure, times have changed, and Duff has much better management and representation—they're going to tell us she's a singer whether we buy it or not—but the simple fact remains that she is not a singer. Asking the audience to accept that Duff, with her lighter-than-air, not-ready-for-American Idol vocal stylings (speaking of which, why did no one consider casting Kelly Clarkson? She can actually sing and couldn't have been any worse an actress than Duff), has somehow got the stuff to be accepted into "the most prestigious music program in the country" stretches the story's credibility to the point that it snaps.
Maybe it's not Duff's fault. Maybe she doesn't know any better—she's been surrounded by people telling her she's multitalented for so long that she probably believes it herself. Well, she would be wrong. I'll say it once more for the cheap seats: Hilary Duff is not a singer. Hell, she's barely an actress—more like a marketing tool, made to be plastered over TV, movies, music, clothing lines, but excelling at none of them.
I let Duff slide in Lizzie McGuire, because who could possibly feel good about picking on a 12-year-old? Besides, she showed a small amount of charisma and likeability, even if it was of the soulless child-star variety. She was harmless and served the limited needs of that series—fine for a 12-year-old. Now, though, Duff's older and seeking more respect, headlining Hollywood movies and wanting to be taken "seriously" as an actress. The trouble with that is that Duff has only grown older, not matured; she still relies on the only child-star tricks in her arsenal: blank smiles and the batting of her large (if surprisingly inexpressive) eyes. Sure, there are those scenes in which Terri receives bad news, or is hurt by the boy she has a crush on, or just "wants to give up," in which case she'll frown and pout and look like she might cry, but it's only a matter of time before she's all smiley and batty again. There's no real performance here—just Duff doing Duff.
Picture and sound quality on New Line's DVD of Raise Your Voice are just fine; it's the things the actors are saying and doing that that ruins the package, not the way it looks and sounds. All of the bonus features included are fluff (which doesn't really come as a surprise considering the movie's likely fan base), though a music video featuring The Duff in full-on rock-chick mode is good for a laugh—you can practically hear her handlers telling her that it "works for Avril Lavigne!"
A quick trip over to the Internet Movie Database informs me that the working title for Raise Your Voice was "Untitled Christian Music Project," leaving me with even more questions than I started with. While it might help to explain The Duff singing a song called "Jericho" over the end credits, I have to wonder what exactly is considered Christian about the movie. The lying to your family? The underage drinking on the roof of the school?
I have to admit, though, that at one point I blurted out, "Please, Lord, make it stop!" So I guess, in some small way, the movie got me talking to God.
Raise Your Voice should shut its mouth. Let's melt down Hilary Duff and use her for spare parts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Deleted Scenes
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