Wholesomeness needn’t be boring in a young actress. Consider Mandy Moore, whose virginal eagerness is lit by a spark of inquiring delight; she’s clean without being squeaky.
Hilary Duff, on the other hand, with her blond Barbie bangs, sugary princess voice, and coyly batting daddy’s-girl eyelashes, is like a product of the Britney/Olsens teenbot assembly line, and so the scrubbed earnestness she displays in a movie like Raise Your Voice seems less a personality than a plea for attention. She’s as emotionally dynamic as an Oreo cookie — a programmed flirt on the outside who’s all sweetness and light on the inside. She makes me long for the comparatively Dostoyevskian depths of Sandra Dee.
In Raise Your Voice, a tween update of Fame, Duff plays a small-town girl with big pipes and bigger dreams who sets off for Los Angeles to attend the highly competitive three-week summer music program at the Bristol-Hillman Conservatory. Looking half as tall as everyone else in the movie (John Corbett, especially, towers over her as a saintly hippie vocal instructor), Duff is the breathy soft-pop angel in a pool of precocious exhibitionists. There’s the hip-hop drum-machine geek, the pianist who broods like Morticia Addams, the mean-enough- to-be-head-cheerleader choral tart, and the spiky-haired lyricist (Oliver James) who becomes her collaborator in love. The cheesy unctuousness of Fame is that it passed off high school soap opera as artistic torment. I enjoyed the musical numbers in Raise Your Voice, including Duff’s, but the rest of the film is too synthetic to even be called cheese.