“The Secret: Dare to Dream” serves up a steaming pile of hokum

The Secret: Dare to Dream Katie Holmes & Josh Lucas in The Secret: Dare to Dream (Lionsgate)

Rhonda Byrne’s bestselling “law of attraction” nonsense gets a cloying, predictable romantic spin with better performances than it deserves.

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Someday, someone will write the definitive cultural history of horseshit promoted by daytime talk show hosts. I’m not just talking about Oprah, though she has been responsible for a considerable amount of it. I’m talking about everything that was peddled by con artists, motivational speakers, and snake oil salesmen. Mediums, guardian angels, the da Vinci Code, children who claim to have died and seen Heaven, all of it, but with a special focus on The Secret, Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 book that took Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and amped it up so that it was something almost mystical and God-like. 

According to Byrne, if you want something–a new job, a bigger bank account, that cute co-worker to notice you–merely believing it will happen is enough to make it happen. It’s not a terrible concept at face value, until Byrne gets into some metaphysical nonsense about how positive thoughts turn your brain into a magnet that attracts the universe, and negative thoughts lead to misfortune (essentially, blaming people for their own shitty predicaments, regardless of the actual cause). Nevertheless, Byrne’s now a millionaire thanks to society’s continued pursuit of self-improvement without actually having to do anything, with multiple books, apps, and even something called a “magic check.” Somebody apparently visualized a sappy romantic drama inspired by it, and so we now have The Secret: Dare to Dream, which isn’t so much a movie as a series of contrivances that test both the audience’s patience, and how far back they can roll their eyes.

As with Money Plane, when you watch a romantic drama based on The Secret, you know what you’re getting into. It wasn’t made for anyone who needs to be convinced that the law of attraction is a thing. This is for the true believers, those who think that success doesn’t come from hard work (and, often, luck and good connections), but rather thinking real hard about it. At no point is it ever even remotely suggested that The Secret might be a load of hooey. Even the most skeptical character in the movie’s protests are weak, and made with an expression in her eyes that suggests that she wants to believe, but just can’t.

This character is Miranda (Katie Holmes, in case you’re wondering what she’s been up to recently), a blue collar widow struggling to make ends meet while taking care of her three annoying kids, who do little else but complain about their circumstances. Miranda is dating Tucker (Jerry O’Connell, who, as we learn in an absolute chef’s kiss of expository dialogue, is also her boss), but feels indifferent at best about both him and the relationship. The only family Miranda seems to have is her fretful, overbearing mother-in-law, Bobby (Celia Weston), who expresses her many concerns about Miranda’s love life, Miranda’s finances, Miranda’s house, and Miranda’s children in a thick-as-grits Southern accent that not a single other character in the movie has, despite its arbitrary New Orleans setting.

Miranda literally runs into Bray (Josh Lucas), the man who will change her life, when she accidentally rear-ends his truck. Bray, a handyman/engineering professor (because whomst among us doesn’t have one of those in our lives?), is in town to give Miranda an envelope. Which, as you will note, is prominently marked with the red wax seal that’s on the cover of every Secret book, in case you forget for a second what this movie is trying to sell. Because the movie would simply end otherwise, Bray decides not to tell Miranda that he already knows who she is, or to give her the envelope, which is later conveniently blown away in a hurricane. Instead, he insinuates himself into her life, repairing her dilapidated house (seemingly overnight) and offering her endless platitudes about how she needs to spend more time being grateful for what she has than lamenting over what she doesn’t.

This is for the true believers, those who think that success doesn’t come from hard work (and, often, luck and good connections), but rather thinking real hard about it.

Rather than running him off her property with a shotgun, Miranda welcomes Bray into her home, where he pushes the “law of attraction” jive on her kids within the first five minutes of meeting them. The Secret, as portrayed here, comes off as nothing so much as a magic trick, as in one scene where Bray has the kids visualize pizza, and then within the space of a minute a surprise pizza delivery arrives at their door. It’s all played very straight-faced, though, and the “suspense,” such as it is, relies entirely on whether or not Miranda will learn to accept that The Secret is real.

The Secret: Dare to Dream isn’t a Christian movie, exactly, but it sure feels like one. Bray is so relentlessly kind, such a bottomless font of wisdom that if it’s eventually revealed that he’s Jesus Christ, returned to Earth in the form of a hunky handyman/engineering professor, it wouldn’t be surprising. The twist of who he actually is is somehow dumber than that, and exists largely so the movie could have its typical “darkest hour before the dawn” moment before the two leads inevitably confess their love for each other and everything is forgiven. Directed by Andy Tennant, who you won’t remember from such efforts as Fool’s Gold and The Bounty Hunter, the most exciting it gets is a tree falling into a roof, and the sexiest it gets is a chaste kiss in a Waffle House parking lot.

I will be charitable and say that Holmes and Lucas do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. They even generate some believable chemistry, which makes you wonder why the plot wastes even a second suggesting that Miranda may decide to stick with Tucker, a drip who definitely couldn’t do anything like single-handedly repair an entire house overnight. In and of itself, The Secret: Dare to Dream is just bland and derivative. If it was only another story about a pretty widow finding love with a handsome stranger, it’d be forgettable, but harmless.

The problem is that it serves as promotional material for a self-help program that’s already been debunked, and is, frankly, a little offensive in its message. When it’s suggested, without the slightest bit of sarcasm, that Miranda’s very real problems (like late mortgage payments and lack of dental insurance) can be solved simply by a change in attitude, one wonders how well The Secret actually works in real life. Imagine trying to push this garbage on someone who’s facing eviction, or a cancer diagnosis. 

Of course, the studio had no way of knowing what the state of the world would be when The Secret: Dare to Dream was green-lit. But the fact that they didn’t think to maybe shelf it until next year is, honestly, a little shocking. It sharply divides the world into dreamers and pragmatists, where the dreamers always get what they want and the pragmatists just frown and shake their heads. It fails to recognize the harsh truth: pragmatists know that positive affirmations don’t pay the rent.

Visualize The Secret: Dare to Dream coming to VOD on July 31st.

The Secret: Dare to Dream Trailer:

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