You’ve heard of The Secret, probably. It’s the hugely bestselling 2006 self-help book by Rhonda Byrne that rehashes a lot of banal clichés about the power of positive thinking into some of the most pernicious bullshit imaginable. It basically says that if you don’t get everything you want in life — romance, wealth, a happy family, professional success, soufflés that don’t fall flat, and more — it’s your own fault for just not wanting it hard enough. The Secret is neoliberal faux spirituality, a secular prosperity gospel. It’s a soft-focus cousin to the biggest trick that capitalism ever pulled, in convincing you that if you’re poor, it’s merely because you haven’t worked hard enough.
But, hey, this kind of propaganda sells! Why not repurpose it — in much the same way that Byrne repurposed hoary cult philosophies like theosophy for her book — for romantic drama? Surely, the women of our culture — we who are constantly told that we’re not good enough and not juggling impossible demands well enough and if only we were, we could actually Have It All — will drink in an emotionally and psychologically gauzy tale of a struggling single mom whose negativity is clearly the cause of all her troubles.
Don’t fall for it. Especially not if you power-of-positive-thought your way into wanting another hunky sensitive romantic lead for Josh Lucas (Ford v Ferrari, What They Had). Because — whew! The Secret: Dare to Dream dares to dream up a really horrible man for Katie Holmes’s sad sack to of course inevitably end up with. I’m struggling to think of a word to describe the Nice Guy garbage Lucas’s Bray Johnson is all about. It’s not gaslighting, but it might be a kind of negging. Screenwriters Bekah Brunstetter, Rick Parks (Ever After), and director Andy Tennant (The Bounty Hunter, Fool’s Gold) wished really hard, and an Am I the Asshole? Reddit thread came to life. You know, the ones in which the jerk dude refuses to concede that he is the asshole even after hundreds of people have patiently explained reality to him.
(An aside: Bray? The man’s name is Bray?? Like… like the harsh noise a donkey makes? So he’s not only an asshole, he’s an actual ass.)
Anyway, poor Katie Holmes (Ocean’s Eight, Logan Lucky). Her Miranda Wells is a widow with three kids and a house that is falling down around them. She’s got a mountain of debt, too. But she also has what seems like a pretty good job at a New Orleans seafood restaurant, and a genuinely nice, kind, thoughtful, generous boyfriend in Jerry O’Connell’s (Veronica Mars, Obsessed) Tucker. Tuck is Miranda’s boss, but it all seems to be working out fine. Tuck even remembers her kids’ favorite pizzas! As modern men go, Tuck is a catch.
But then Bray — *snort* — blows into town with a hurricane on his heels. (The screenwriters wished real hard for obvious metaphors, I guess.) Bray has some mysterious news to deliver to Miranda, but then he doesn’t give her the news because… who knows? The hurricane has put a tree through her roof, which she cannot afford to fix, and she needs a root canal, for which she has no health insurance. Her teen daughter is asking for a computer, and her youngest daughter wants a pony. In ways that would be weird and creepy in real life, Bray is instantly clued in to all of Miranda’s issues, all of which come down to a lack of money… and he keeps not telling her his news even though he now knows that his news would solve all her problems. Honestly, he wouldn’t need to know what she has going on in her life to know that his news to be welcome, but it’s especially terrible that he leaves her stewing in anxiety for days when he could have just not done that.
Instead, Bray volunteers to fix Miranda’s roof, and OH! this is after he volunteered to repair her car. Miranda’s weird-creep-o-meter should be blaring, especially if she is the negative Nelly everyone keeps insisting she is. I’m not sure the movie itself even knows what Bray’s justification for his own behavior is, unless it’s that he feels guilty about a thing that is behind the news he needs to tell Miranda and so wants to help her out. Except the only reasonable way for him to do this would be to just give her his news already. Jeez.
This is one of those infuriating romantic dramas that demands that people not tell each other something is order for there to be a plot, and for the movie to withhold vital information stuff in order to keep us in suspense. (These things are instantly spottable, and hence generate no suspense whatsoever.) And then things get really ridiculous. The only way in which The Secret: Dare to Dream could be more laughably absurd is if Bray turned out to be an angel.
Spoiler: he does not. But the kids get the computer and the pony. They wished hard enough, I guess. Mom didn’t wish for a manipulative new boyfriend, but she got one anyway. And all of this is supposed to sell us on the wisdom of The Secret?