The Secret: Dare to Dream

Rhonda Byrne's book “The Secret” became an Oprah-approved phenomenon in 2006. It dealt with the “law of attraction,” which says that if you think about good things, they'll happen to you, and if you think about bad things, you'll experience misfortune. Of course, it was merely a clever repackaging of old ideas and pseudo-scientific nonsense. As many pointed out, focusing on a goal as you work toward it can indeed help it come true; merely thinking about it won't, as starving people in third world countries could attest to, were we heartless enough to ask them about something so trivial as “The Secret.” The male lead in the The Secret: Dare to Dream occasionally launches into impromptu monologues about thinking positively. That's the film's main connection to the book. Otherwise, it's a genial, if increasingly absurd romantic drama.

Katie Holmes plays Miranda Wells, a widow with three children. Her life is kind of a mess. The house is falling apart, money is tight, and she's got a mouth full of cavities from eating taffy. (You will not believe what a huge role taffy plays in this movie.) One day, Miranda smashes her car into a pickup belonging to Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas). Rather than getting angry, Bray follows her back home so he can reattach her front fender. That night, a storm knocks a tree through the roof of the house. He comes back and offers to spend the next week fixing it, too. Meanwhile, her boss/boyfriend (Jerry O'Connell) is none too happy about this strange dude hanging around. The mystery man may or may not be simply a Good Samaritan. Bray has actually come to town looking specifically for Miranda so that he can give her an envelope, the contents of which remain unknown to us until the third act.

I realize how silly it all sounds. The Secret: Dare to Dream is better than it may seem during these early scenes. Holmes gives a convincing performance as the worn-down mom trying desperately to hold her world together. She shares nice chemistry with Lucas, who radiates decency as the proverbial stranger-in-town. Scenes in which Bray helps Miranda or offers support to her children have a gentle, uplifting feel, much like how the best faith-based films earn warm-fuzzies from showing people being nice to each other. At times, the movie even has some humor about itself. Sarah Hoffmeister is excellent as Miranda's teen daughter Missy, who serves as an audience surrogate, commenting on how weird and unlikely the whole scenario is.

The Secret: Dare to Dream, to be clear, is not a faith-based picture. The closest it ever comes to religion is when Bray starts prattling on about how Miranda's life will change for the better if she can just rid her mind of those pesky negative thoughts. Presumably this is a concession to fans of Byrne's book, who expect the plot to have some relevance to what was on the page. Regardless, watching the relationship between the two main characters grow absolutely holds some entertainment value in a sweet, wholesome manner.

Having said that, this is one of those movies that relies on a ridiculous improbability to keep its engine running. Bray tries multiple times to tell Miranda about the envelope, and every time, something distracts her (one of the kids calling, someone else walking in the room, etc.). Then, a scene or two later, he's alone with her again, yet says nothing. The Secret keeps repeating this absurd cycle of him only making an effort at the worst possible times. Of course, it all leads to the big dramatic scene where Miranda finds out another way and is then angry at him for not telling her.

I wouldn't dream of revealing the secret of The Secret, except to say that you should be prepared to suspend your disbelief. It's a real humdinger. Screenwriters Rick Parks and Andy Tennant (who also directed) apparently believe the drama is in waiting for Miranda to learn the truth. They're wrong. Plenty of drama could be wrung from her finding out, grappling with the ramifications of this new information, and deciding how she feels about Bray for not coming to her with it a lot sooner. Instead, we get manufactured suspense that, frankly, is less interesting than what we don't see.

The Secret: Dare to Dream is passably entertaining, thanks to the efforts of Holmes, Lucas, and Celia Weston, who's terrific as Miranda's meddling mother-in-law. I just kept thinking that the film needed a more logical plot, and no matter how strongly I envisioned it, one never came. So much for the law of attraction.

out of four

The Secret: Dare to Dream is rated PG for language and an injury image. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.