U.S. Release Date: October 8, 2004
Distributor: New Line
Director: Sean McNamara
Producer: Sean McNamara
Composer: Aaron Zigman
Cast: Hilary Duff, John Corbett, Kat Dennings
Running Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (thematic elements and language)

Tune Town
by Scott Holleran

Feel-good cinema returns in Sean McNamara's Raise Your Voice. New Line Cinema's enjoyable music movie resonates thanks to a theme about pursuing one's passion, a good cast and a perfectly pictured city. Co-producer and director McNamara takes hold of Sam Schreiber's script, based on a story by Mitch Rotter, and he makes it sing. What comes out isn't opera, but it also isn't the racket blaring out of most teen flicks. Raise Your Voice is a pleasant diversion.

Raise Your Voice begins in Flagstaff, Arizona, where choirgirl Hilary Duff dreams of attending a top music school in Los Angeles. Her brother (Jason Ritter) is headed for Arizona State University, and, though controlling Dad (David Keith) has other plans, the kids yearn to break free. Mom (Rita Wilson) and an artsy aunt (Rebecca De Mornay) favor the kids. But Dad is as understanding as the Great Santini.

Duff doesn't want to wind up singing Cats at the Y when she's 40, as her brother puts it. If the school accepts her—no easy accomplishment—she might make it. A sudden and deftly handled tragedy forces the goody-two shoes Duff to defy her father and set out on her own.

The terrible catalyst for her bold move to L.A. sets the tone and frames Duff's journey. Once she settles at school, Duff sets her sights on winning a prize in the school's talent competition. Duff is fine; Raise Your Voice is better. It's the rest of the cast that puts her one-note performance to music. Among the students are a struggling songwriter—a cheerful fellow for a change—played by cute Oliver James, a withdrawn prodigy (Kat Dennings) and a nerdy bundle of energy who bangs his drumsticks on everything that isn't nailed down, adorably played by Johnny Lewis.

Bearded John Corbett basically imitates Jeff Bridges as a charismatic teacher. Others include a token hussy (Lauren C. Mayhew), a token black (Dana Davis)—why are the cash-strapped characters always black?—and a demanding east Euro teacher played by Robert Trebor whose role, because he has more to offer Duff than Corbett's hippie, should have been expanded. Duff, in a distracting haircut, is worth rooting for. What is best about Raise Your Voice is how McNamara shows that happiness, not sadness, is the key to making music—using Los Angeles, not Hollywood, as the backdrop.

McNamara portrays L.A. as a vast landscape of sun-kissed skyscrapers, blue skies and soft, Mexican guitar solos. Whether lavishing light on L.A.'s Art Deco Union Station or swooning around a romantic rooftop kiss, McNamara's stars rise to capture the glow of a shining skyline; they are self-reliant, hardworking and joyful.

Raise Your Voice is a peppy pop music confection that, at least for a while, drowns out the din of slobbering demons and drug addicts. A choice between malcontents raising Hell on earth or a band of kids striving to make music in a city where a rooftop at dawn offers a fresh start is easy picking: Raise Your Voice rattles and hums.

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