Arriving more than ten years behind the curve in both its ability to inspire and establish a solid connection, “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” a fictionalized take on Rhonda Byrne’s well-known self-help book “The Secret,” treads familiar ground without adding any valuable insights. The narrative, centering on a financially and emotionally strained family discovering hope in difficult times and love in unexpected encounters, fumbles as it tries to sell books while mimicking another famous author’s distinctive style. Packed with confusing clichés and cheesy elements, director/co-writer Andy Tennant’s film falls far short of what a heartfelt romance should aim for, especially one that advocates the power of positivity.
Struggling single mom Miranda Wells (played by Katie Holmes) has been stretched thin since her husband passed away a few years back. Juggling shifts at a New Orleans fish market, she manages her deteriorating home. She ensures her three kids—Missy, Greg, and Bess—are as content as possible given their financial struggles. Time and money are scarce, leaving little room for her own needs, even if a necessary root canal is on the horizon. Everything, from relationships with her supportive boss-turned-boyfriend Tucker (Jerry O’Connell) to her concerned mother-in-law Bobby (Celia Weston), is in a state of disarray. To top it off, a major hurricane is looming on the horizon, making matters even more challenging.
Bray Johnson (played by Josh Lucas) is an engineering professor with looks that could rival luck itself. This charmed bachelor breezes into town on the Bayou wind, helping Miranda with her pressing issues. He carries a mysterious manila envelope, sealed with wax for that extra touch of significance, though he infuriatingly conceals it instead of straightforwardly handing it over. Their first encounter involves him fixing her banged-up bumper and progressing to philosophical discussions over pizza. Bray’s initial welcome soon becomes a blessing when a tree branch wreaks havoc on their kitchen, rendering the home uninhabitable. His willingness to assist the Wells family for a week seems effortless, but it’s fueled by an actual secret—one that has a rational explanation.
While the movie conveniently avoids mentioning the book itself (probably to prevent viewers from realizing they’re watching a celebrity-driven infomercial), its wisdom seeps into the dialogue as subtly as an anvil. These platitudes are present from the basic laws of attraction to more esoteric beliefs. However, the director, along with co-writers Bekah Brunstetter and Rick Parks, falls short of showcasing these principles in action in the characters’ lives. Vision boards and psychological conjuring take a backseat to instant gratification.
Unsure about life’s direction, Miranda magically has her wishes granted the moment she decides. Missy, initially desiring a flashy 16th birthday party, swiftly changes her mind after discovering a new set of values. Longing for a father figure, Greg finds one in Bray, who seems to materialize out of nowhere. Even Bess, wishing for a pony, sees her desire fulfilled in record time. Using “The Secret” to acquire ponies feels like a distortion of its uplifting message.
Despite the book’s poorly translated methods and sentiments, the filmmakers have created an incredibly clichéd and uninspiring romance. Holmes and Lucas, the main characters, try to ignite a spark with their playful chemistry, but it falls flat due to a lack of passion and tenderness. The movie lacks the fiery desire, warmth, and charm found in Nicholas Sparks’ films, which it clearly aims to imitate. The situation worsens during the conclusion, accompanied by a dramatic score and swirling camera work, set in a Waffle House parking lot. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.
Yet, it’s not a complete disappointment. The characters’ challenges, though quite foreseeable, unfold at a steady pace. The first half introduces some refreshing elements, particularly how it portrays male characters. Tucker and Bray stand out as supportive and sensitive men, avoiding the typical macho stereotypes vying for Miranda’s attention until the second half. The film cleverly uses the home remodeling process to mirror the Wells’ mental states, adding nuanced symbolism to a story that often lacks subtlety. The recurring taffy motif, tied to Miranda’s addiction, mirrors the sticky situations the family finds themselves in.
Comparing it to other successful adaptations of nonfiction manuals like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “Think Like a Man,” which blend self-improvement techniques with entertaining narratives and emotions, it’s puzzling — and perhaps ironic — that this one, despite offering genuinely helpful teachings, encounters multiple issues when placed in a genre that thrives on seeing dreams come true.