By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) — At no point in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Lionsgate) does the dialogue remotely approach the way anyone speaks in real life.
In a romantic drama with the usual twists and turns of the genre, that’s almost to be expected. But there’s much more going on in this mostly squeaky-clean adaptation of Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book, titled simply “The Secret.”
Byrne, whose writings have sold millions, doesn’t content herself with advocating the power of positive thinking in the old Norman Vincent Peale mold. Rather, she peddles the belief — a famed lure for would-be entrepreneurs since the days of straw boaters, spats and celluloid dickeys — that, gee willikers, it’s possible to just will one’s self into wealth, opportunity and true love.
The film can be enjoyed on its surface for the time-honored Hallmark Channel “law of attraction” plot with good-looking actors making moral decisions. But some of their exchanges are painfully hackneyed.
There’s more than a whiff of old-time suspenders-snapping blended into the proceedings, moreover. So, although the more usual problematic elements are virtually absent, the movie cannot be endorsed for young viewers — or those among their elders inclined to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
“The Secret” does strive to be likable — it includes both a visit to a Waffle House and a pony. But the get-rich advice is right out there.
The script’s message is a far cry from anything resembling traditional Christian spirituality with its emphasis on self-sacrifice and empathy. Instead, as directed by Andy Tennant, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bekah Brunstetter and Rick Parks, the picture is essentially a thinly disguised sales pitch.
Miranda (Katie Holmes), a widowed mother of three, is a buyer for Louisiana seafood restaurateur Tucker (Jerry O’Connell), who is slightly clueless, yet pines for her all the same.
Miranda makes a lot of bad impulsive decisions and is constantly in debt. Her husband was an inventor whose water-reclamation device, we are told, never made money because he’d been cheated by a partner.
Into her life drops Bray (Josh Lucas) who is so, so right for her. He’s splendid around the children and a handy guy with tools and roof repairs in the manly way after a hurricane, although the reason he’s turned up is, of course, the secret of the plot.
“The more you think about something, the more you draw it to you,” he tells Miranda.
Later, he opines, “I’m not a Buddhist. I’m just open to the possibility that no matter what happens, even the bad stuff can lead to better things.” That’s followed by “Things don’t have to be a series of unfortunate events.”
Eventually, Bray gets around to trotting out a quote along the same lines attributed to Albert Einstein: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” He’s a regular bumper-sticker theologian.
Miranda has to contend with Tucker’s marriage proposal and whether to sell her house and seek a new career in order to find lasting happiness.
Soft answers for life’s dilemmas constitute the appeal of many a romantic drama. But with this one, you might get the feeling that when it’s over, you’ll get herded into a motel conference room for a high-pressure hard sell session.
The film contains promotion of a nonscriptural worldview requiring mature discernment and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.