Synopsis: Miranda Wells is a hard-working young widow struggling to raise three children on her own. A powerful storm brings a devastating challenge and a mysterious man into her life.
Stars: Katie Holmes Josh Lucas, Jerry O’Connell, Celia Weston, Sarah Hoffmeister, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Chloe Lee, Katrina Begin, Sydney Tennant, Samantha Beaulieu
Director: Andy Tennant
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: If this were a normal summer, we’d be neck deep in sonic boom blockbusters and hyperactive animated family entertainment at theaters by this time. The majority of the touted releases would have seen their big debuts and faced the critical eyes of audiences around the world, hopefully making their money back and more. When the pandemic closed movie houses around the globe and forced studios to shift their tentpole pictures months or years out, it left a rare opening for films less reliant on a built in fan base to get seen and that’s why smaller (mostly horror) movies like Relic, The Wretched, The Rental, Valley Girl, Miss Juneteenth, and Palm Springs have all posted decent numbers in their limited releases at drive-ins. Now it’s not mega-money, the #8 film at the recent box office made $535 bucks, but at least it’s something.
If a movie like The Secret: Dare to Dream had kept to its original release date, it would have shown up in mid-April right before the heavy hitters started to appear but even so it’s hard not to see the film for the keen bit of counter-programming it is. As someone that can take or leave these soapy romantic dramas but isn’t totally averse to giving one a chance, I was curious to see what a film based on a 2006 new-agey self-help documentary and its spin-off book would look like. Though it doesn’t come armed with a doctrine as obvious as I anticipated, there’s an underlying message of goodness to be found and for once it doesn’t feel strained. It’s more formulaic than the theory of relativity but also, oddly, almost compellingly watchable in the way these types of easily digestible movies so often are.
Louisiana widow Miranda (Katie Holmes, Woman in Gold) is keeping her head above water even as the bills pile up and the life she thought she had planned slips through her fingers. Her children are your typical movie youths running from temperamental teen to pony-loving grade schooler, yet they all manage to band together to help boost mom’s spirits when they can. Their grandmother (Celia Weston, The Intern) wishes Miranda would sell their large but in need of repair house and marry a local entrepreneur (Jerry O’Connell, Wish Upon) but there’s something keeping Miranda from starting a new life. Opportunity presents itself the same day a hurricane is set to hit their town, when she winds up in a fender bender with Bray (Josh Lucas, Ford v Ferrari) who just happens to be looking for her. She doesn’t know it yet, but Bray has business with Miranda that becomes the Big Secret the movie holds onto until the Big Reveal near the end. In the first of many wholly unbelievable plot contrivances, Miranda welcomes this total stranger into her home without question and the only one other than the grandmother that seems to find this odd is the viewer. Charming though Lucas may come across on screen, he does appear a bit squirmy in the balmy humidity of a Louisiana hurricane season; why Miranda would accept him so effortlessly, especially with her young children present, is a mystery. Evidently, stranger-danger is a think of the past.
At the outset, you can feel the influence of the source material on the movie and the situations screenwriters Bekah Brunstetter, Rick Parks, and Andy Tennant (Grease 2) place Miranda and Bray in. The film stops cold when Bray walks the children through a demonstration with magnets on the laws of attraction, a tenet of The Secret which makes the claim that thoughts (good and bad) can change a person’s life directly. There’s a bit of mumbo-jumbo to suggest some magic in the air with this power of positive thinking having some influence on wishes coming true but almost as soon as these instances appear, they seem to be abandoned for more straight-forward dramatic storytelling that’s familiar and predictable. Also serving as director, Tennant has helmed his fair share of rom-coms and while the movie isn’t big on laughs it does have the tiniest bit of a spring it its step and a sliver of a sense of humor which helps it from being taken too seriously.
Audiences will know the ending long before Miranda and Bray do so your enjoyment of the movie hinges on what you think of its stars. Holmes has grown from a child star into a nicely committed actress, very much at home in these types of mom/comfort-giver roles and while there’s not a lot of range shown she finds a nice balance in the material so that it doesn’t teeter into overly saccharine. Dealt a bit of a tough hand, Lucas has to battle back some early creeper vibes…the more you tell yourself this is a PG romantic drama the more you’ll convince yourself he isn’t there to do any harm to Holmes or her kids. You feel especially bad for O’Connell in a totally thankless role as Miranda’s would-be suitor. He barely gets an introduction or a proper good-bye. Perhaps the most interesting character is meant to be the most irritating and that’s Weston as the fuddy-duddy grandmother that’s always a pest, until she does an about face because the film needs her stamp of approval.
Take away all the rhetoric and hokey nonsense that the filmmakers don’t even stick with for long and there’s an occasionally interesting and comfortably casual viewing experience. There are certainly more aggressively cheerful movies in recent release attempting to elicit the same type of audience reaction to far less successful results…I’d watch this one again before I’d get anywhere near something like the soggy Fisherman’s Friends, for instance. To be clear, The Secret: Dare to Dream is as average as they come (don’t even get me started on that dreadful title) but truth be told it managed to keep me engaged far longer than I thought it would.