It's hard to know whether to appreciate the small stabs at portraying faith as a normal part of life made by Raise Your Voice or to lament that Hollywood offers only such meager crumbs. Raise Your Voice (rated PG for thematic elements and language) is the latest Hilary Duff vehicle-the film never lets its audience forget that-about a girl who must overcome personal obstacles to achieve her dreams of musical stardom.
Ms. Duff's Terri is (supposedly) a talented vocalist living in Flagstaff, Ariz. An opportunity to attend the exclusive Bristol-Hillman Conservancy in Los Angeles is quickly quashed by Terri's heavy-handed, glowering father (David Keith). The death of Terri's supportive older brother convinces her mother (Rita Wilson) and aunt (Rebecca De Mornay) to help Terri attend the summer program without her father's knowledge.
At the school, Terri finds herself on an unsurprising journey of self-discovery. Nearly every scene in Raise Your Voice feels-no, is-contrived, manipulative, forced, artificial. A single sequence in the film, involving Terri's sweet relationship with her brother, strikes a genuine emotional chord.
It would be difficult to argue that Raise Your Voice is a good film, but several elements in the film do stand out. The story includes references to faith without making them a central part of the plot, a rarity in any genre, let alone teen comedies. Ms. Duff and her brother wear crosses around their necks, and Ms. Duff is shown on several occasions in a church. In one of these scenes, she's actually praying, and silently at that! (This, as opposed to Hollywood's cutesy spoken prayers, used on the rare occasions when prayer becomes a convenient plot device.)
What would have really been impressive, though, is if that faith had been woven into the fabric of the film. One hates to complain too loudly of crumbs, when crumbs are all there is to be had, but remove the aforementioned elements and it becomes difficult to pick out a worldview consistent with Christianity. Ms. Duff regrets her decision to deceive her father but still ends her journey at a familiar destination, the island of "Me" (as in, I needed to do this for ___). It's sad to note, too, that Ms. Duff and other main characters often use the Lord's name in vain.
She is without a doubt an appealing performer, and one can respect Ms. Duff's desire to attach herself to a project like this on a principled, if not necessarily artistic, level.