The Secret: Dare to Dream (2020)

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas star in “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” based on the best-selling novel by Rhonda Byrne.

Take a hopeless romantic, director Andy Tennant, and pair him up with self-help author Rhonda Byrne, whose book “The Secret” has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and you have the beginning of a modern fairy tale that’s long overdue.

Add quirky but tender Katie Holmes to the mix and Southern-fried charmer Josh Lucas, and the result is the uplifting “Dare to Dream” that invites you to put aside your worries and believe in hope.

For me, it was the perfect film for these stressful times. Others may be inclined to hurl.

I’m surprised that Holmes hasn’t been in more romantic films. I’ve always found her quirkiness quite charming. She plays single mom Miranda Wells, a widow raising three children in a nice but decaying home just outside of New Orleans. Her van is run down, bill collectors call frequently, and her overbearing stepmother Bobby (Celia Weston) is constantly critiquing her parenting skills.

Enter Lucas as Bray Johnson – it’s useless to resist anyone with a name like that – you’re either going to fall in love or buy a used car (insert catchy Bray Johnson Chevrolet jingle). He shows up out of nowhere – which in this case means Nashville – with a mysterious envelope for Miranda. He misses her at home but as fate would have it, she literally runs into him on the road after rear-ending his pickup.

Now, most people would jump out of the truck, accuse Miranda of not paying attention, demand to see her insurance card and call the police. Of course, “Bray Johnson” is not most people. Not only is he calm, cool and collected, he also offers to fix the front bumper that fell off Miranda’s van – free of charge. It’s obvious that Bray has read Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling novel and now practices positive thinking.

As the Cinderella story continues, Bray bonds with Miranda’s kids, throws plenty of positive vibes their way and offers to patch a hole in Miranda’s roof after a storm knocks a tree through it. His kindness raises the suspicions of nosy but well-meaning Bobby, and Miranda’s boss Tucker (Jerry O’Connell), who owns a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter. Tucker has feelings for Miranda but hasn’t acted upon them because she is still grieving her husband, an unsuccessful inventor who died in a plane crash.

The entire film, written by Tennant with Bekah Brunstetter and Rick Parks, is based around the secret that Bray holds in the envelope for Miranda. He doesn’t give it to her at first and when he finally places it in her mailbox, the storm blows it away and and into a lake. There are mysterious forces at play here that indicate that we may be watching a faith-based film and, in a way, we are – minus the usual mentions of prayer and God.

Byrne’s novel, endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, is based on the law of attraction: If you think positive thoughts you will attract positive consequences. It’s also part of the New Thought movement that proposes that God or Infinite Intelligence is everywhere, and divinity dwells within each of us. These ideas are instilled in Bray’s character who in a subtle way passes on these traits to Miranda and her kids.

The film is predictable, but it’s also charming and filled with one satisfying moment after another. Director Andy Tennant has been sharpening his romance skills on films that include “Fools Rush In,” “Ever After: A Cinderella Story,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Anna and the King,” and his most successful film, the Will Smith rom-com “Hitch.”

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” doesn’t follow the sad and tragic formula of most Nicholas Sparks-based films. The death of Miranda’s husband is in the past. She’s already moving forward, so there aren’t tons of heartbreaking moments to wallow through before we get to romance. Also, this isn’t a typical romance – accidental is more like it. Plus, it’s complicated; Bray seems to be married, and Tucker wants to marry Miranda. And there’s that mysterious envelope.

I’m not a fan of the Nicholas Sparks-type romance. I’m more of an unconventional romantic, as in Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love.” But I fell for “Dare to Dream” hook, line and sinker. Holmes and Lucas are charming, and we could all use a shot of hope in our lives.

This one’s for the dreamers.

Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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