Friday, 14 August 2020

The Secret: Dare To Dream (2020) - Movie Review

Well… this is an idea that someone thought was going to work: Make a movie based on a self-help book that, for those who even remember it in the first place, was met with meme status on initial release and has stayed there ever since. Book-to-film adaptations are usually iffy at the best of times purely because of the adaptation process, so you can imagine the hill that needs to be climbed to inject cinematic narrative into something objectively plotless.

But before we even get into the film that was metamorphosed out of this thing, I want to quickly get into some thoughts about the original book itself; saves me carrying on about it for the rest of this review. Now, as far as the quite illustrious club of woo that carry the old Oprah Winfrey seal of approval, I’d argue that it’s of the more benign kinds of magical thinking out there. But the whole Law of Attraction, positive thinking, ‘think good and good will happen to you’ thing… honestly, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Part of that is down to my Dudeist leanings (I’d rather work on how to use the cards I’ve been dealt than keep on wishing that the dealer gives me something better; even magic needs action to manifest), and part of that is knowing how deceptive a depressive mind can be and how "just think positive" doesn't really help with that. But honestly… admittedly, this is hindsight talking, but the whole idea that bad things happen to people because they don’t focus enough on the good things they want? Not really appreciating the idea that 2020 so far has been because we didn’t want good things badly enough.

But again, I’m still not entirely against this idea in theory; hell, I’m willing to bet there’s more than a bit of magical thinking in the ways I approach art and life in general, so I'm not going to be a total hypocrite about this. It all comes down to presentation; can this movie, and the writers behind it, craft a story that is able to sell the idea that a positive outlook is a beneficial thing, something that is definitely true (if not entirely how the source material frames it). Where that idea falls flat on its face is in how these writers picked the single worst way to present it: Wrapped in a big slab of Nicholas Sparks run-off.

Yep, after a merciful four years of not having to deal with this mealy-mouthed bullshit, as it seems people finally got sick of him after The Choice (and rightly so), we now have an astonishingly uncanny knock-off of that same style. Same tenuous romance at its core, same bland performances, same utterly baffling plot developments, same utter void of feeling while watching it.

In terms of romance, it’s a love triangle between Katie Holmes, Josh Lucas and Jerry O’Connell… and now I feel like weeping for each of their careers, if they’re resorting to this. Katie Holmes is about as lively as she was in The Boy 2, Jerry O’Connell serves as the disposable love interest and made me think this is all karma for Kangaroo Jack, and Josh Lucas… isn’t playing the douchebag this time around. Instead, he’s the entry point for The Secret into the narrative, introducing Holmes’ Miranda and her family to positive thinking. He does a decent job of playing against type, but he can’t rise above this material.

On top of taking what I’d argue is the laziest road to film adaptation there is, the writers couldn’t even make it sound remotely workable because the script is absolute junk. The main plot developments, even considering the Sparks-isms on display, feel really thrown together. You can talk about coincidences and quote Einstein all bloody day, but it doesn’t make O’Connell’s Tucker getting a pizza delivered in the middle of a bloody hurricane any less of a dick move.

And even that isn’t consistent, as he and even Miranda’s mother-in-law with Celia Weston’s Bobby (another actor I wish got better material to work with, between this and Poms) function more for the sake of the plot than as individual characters. It legit feels like a narrative switch gets flipped and they suddenly become bad people; it’s that jarring. To say nothing of the dialogue all on its own, including the deliciously ironic moment where Josh Lucas’ Bray says “I’ll take whatever I can get”.

Look, 2020 has been a really damn depressing year, and as much as I have issues with The Secret’s brand of lackadaisical philosophy for suburban moms, I at least get the need for media about being more positive; it won’t solve everything, but it might help us deal with things just a little bit better. But holy shit, ‘widow falls in love with magic handyman’ is a terrible way of getting that across, making me feel incredibly condescended to for pretty much the entire running time (this isn’t helped by how Bobby is basically a strawman grim realist for the film to disprove). It’s a weak idea treated in the laziest way possible, and no amount of positive thinking is going to change that.

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