Terri Fletcher is a wholesome, small town girl with the gift of song and a contagious zest for life. Big brother Paul is her biggest fan, applying his computer and videotaping talents to create a music video of Terri at her spontaneous, fun-loving finest. He secretly mails this audition tape to an L.A. academy’s prestigious summer music program, but is killed in a tragic car accident before a response is received. In her grief, Terri stops singing and literally buries her dreams by tossing her acceptance letter to Bristol-Hillman in the trash.
Mom discovers Terri's discarded letter, brushes it off and insists that Terri go. But Dad flatly refuses to let his little (16-year-old) girl go off into the Hollywood wilds where he can’t protect her. That's when things heat up. Mom collaborates with Terri's Aunt Nina to develop an elaborate scheme that'll get Terri into the school by duping Dad into believing Terri’s going to stay with her aunt.
Once at Bristol-Hillman, Terri once again becomes excited at the opportunities before her, including the $10,000 scholarship awarded to the student who gives the best final performance. But she's got a lot of hurdles to leap before she can reach her full potential. Grief. Post-traumatic stress (she was in the car with Paul when he was killed). A jealous classmate. And self-doubt.
Terri Fletcher is a lot like the real Hilary Duff, totally charismatic and comfortable with who she is. She demonstrates this self-assurance early on by telling a friend, “Call me a dork, but I like choir rehearsal,” refusing to skip because she doesn’t want to let her teacher down.
Paul and Terri share a close, supportive sibling relationship. He constantly encourages her in her musical endeavors and is a passionate advocate for her with Mom and Dad.
John Corbett, as Mr. Travold, plays a charming music teacher who believes in Terri’s talent and serves as a reliable source of inspiration. Recognizing her emotional struggle, he explains to her that “artists feel things differently than others,” and that the most successful ones are able to convey what they’re feeling to their audience.
Terri encourages a despondent "goth girl" to come out of her shell, introduces her to a guy who’s crushing on her and delights in the pair's newfound friendship. She doesn’t retaliate when treated badly by a jealous classmate. And that jealousy is revealed for the destructive force it is, ultimately causing her green-tinged rival a great deal of humiliation in front of friends and teachers.
Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher have a committed marriage that endures even subversion and deceit, holding hands through that potential meltdown instead of putting up their dukes.
Terri tiptoes around the edges of Christianity without displaying a sincere faith life. As Paul flips through his computerized library of amateur music videos, we see Terri joyfully singing in the church choir. She wears Paul’s cross necklace, at first as a comforting reminder of him (not Christ), then as a superstitious good-luck charm. And it’s Paul, not Christ, she envisions smiling down on her through the bright stage lights while singing, ”Someone’s Watching Over Me.”
She does take her sorrows into church and prays, then picks up a “lucky penny” right outside the door. Jay (her boyfriend) comes along right then, and the two get into a discussion about making your own luck.
In a soul-baring moment, Jay tells Terri that music became his religion when his parents went through a nasty divorce, affirming her question, “So music is your higher power?” (That query begs discussion of not only the 1st Commandment, but also such scripture passages as Romans 1:25 and Isaiah 42:17.)
Several songs from the movie’s soundtrack are spiritual in nature, such as “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah and “One More Mile to Jericho.”
Terri falls in love for the first time with Jay, a second-year student with a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Thankfully, Jay recognizes that Terri is special and treats her with respect, not pushing her when she tells him she’s not ready for a kiss (although she decides she’s ready scant moments later). In contrast, his jealous former girlfriend, Robin, is always ready for a kiss. When she traps him in an empty classroom and reminds him how much he had liked the idea that she was “a little bad,” he tells her he’s not the same guy he was last summer. Not one to take no for an answer, she plants a kiss on him.
When fellow classmates Kiwi and Sloan share their first kiss—in a practice room—a rather boisterous display of physical affection leads to lots of noise and falling equipment. The couple lands on the floor out of sight of the camera, but there’s no indication they go any further.
A socially awkward teen guy with a crush on Terri shakes her hand, leading Terri’s girlfriend to quip, “He’s gonna spend the next month worrying if he got you pregnant.” The opening song, Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” includes the lyric, “Make sweet love to you.”
For a teen musical, clothing is surprisingly modest—even at a punk rock concert—but some girls’ tops, including Terri’s, dip too low and reveal cleavage.
The car accident that kills Paul is heartrending but depicted with restraint; the camera cuts away before impact. A mix-master percussionist purposely trips Terri on the school stairs to capture her scream on tape (she’s not hurt).
Crude or Profane Language
God’s name is used for emphasis several times by adults. Terri’s dad spouts minor profanities (“d--n”) during his frequent bursts of anger. Likewise, “d--n,” “h---” and “jacka--” come out of her roommate's mouth. Milder are crass terms such as “suck,” “shut up,” “screw,” “frickin’” and “crap.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
Thinking he’s lost Terri after she catches him being kissed by Robin, Jay goes out and gets drunk. Terri questions his behavior, clearly displeased, but his only excuse is that he feels “useless.” (He suffers no consequences to speak of for his delinquent behavior and Terri shrugs off his misdeed far too glibly.) After a particularly tense moment has passed, Nina comments to no one in particular that she needs a drink. Adults drink wine at dinner.
Other Negative Elements
Mr. Fletcher is domineering, insensitive and overly protective, but he obviously loves his family and works hard to provide for them. Mrs. Fletcher is quick to pick up the family leadership reins when she doesn’t like his direction, setting a bad example for Paul and Terri by undermining her husband’s authority. Aunt Nina chimes in, too, calling him “closed-minded” and telling the kids he’s “being his squash-any-good-idea self.” So it's easy to see why Paul and Terri sometimes act out. When Paul is grounded, Terri encourages him to sneak out with her to a concert. (Aunt Nina gives a smile and a nod when she sees them leave.)
The film’s greatest stumbling block is the conspiracy between Mom, Aunt Nina and Terri to pull a big one over on Dad so Terri can go to the school. There’s just no way to justify it. Terri objects at first, but the weight of her mom's and aunt's reassurances that she should pursue her own happiness win out in the end. And the deception is maintained, by hook or by crook, throughout most of the rest of the film.
Terri's peers give her props for being like "a fugitive from the law," and the only consequence comes in the form of a few moments of intense discomfort when Dad finally finds out. Terri is afraid she’ll be punished and yanked from school. But it's Dad who ultimately apologizes!
It’s hard to find an article written about Hilary Duff that doesn't mention her squeaky clean image. “Wholesome as a glass of milk,” as the Atlanta Journal Constitution recently called her. For the most part, the role of Terri Fletcher allows Duff to retain that tween-friendly image. She loves deeply, encourages the underdog, is hard-working and committed, doesn’t smoke or drink and keeps the guy-girl thing pure.
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. These situation ethics fly in the face of the higher values most of us try to instill in our children: personal integrity, honesty and obedience to parents. Raise Your Voice has broken a cardinal rule of family films: Moms can be trusted to provide guidance and do the right thing. As the age-old question goes, “If you can’t trust your own mother, who can you trust?” Apparently, in Raise Your Voice, nobody. Mrs. Fletcher’s moral compass is askew, wrongly instructing her daughter to disrespect authority and dishonor her father, using the personal pursuit of happiness as leverage.