The Secret Dare to Dream stars Katie Holmes as a struggling widowed mother

Katie Holmes in The Secret: Dare to Dream. Picture: Supplied
Katie Holmes in The Secret: Dare to Dream. Picture: Supplied

The Secret: Dare to Dream (PG)

3 stars

The Secret certainly had its moment in the sun.

Rhonda Byrne's book became more than a best-seller, it captured its zeitgeist, the pre-Global Financial Crisis era of the mid-noughties when it really did seem that you could do anything if you dreamed and wished hard enough, and maybe if you borrowed impossible sums to pursue that dream, hoping the market wouldn't burst.

It's hard to overstate the 2006 self-help book's popularity. Oprah championed it. Dozens of imitators appeared in its wake.

The author helpfully reaffirmed the concept that the reader might ask the universe hard enough for something, and that something would come along.

I've asked the universe a thousand times now for a Powerball win. Perhaps I haven't asked hard enough. Or believed in myself enough.

I received three copies of The Secret from friends who had felt its power, and I remember thinking a range of things at the time. Are they saying they think I don't believe in myself? Did they not believe in themselves? Was this the first book they actually ever read? Am I being too cynical because I'm not wearing my amethyst?

A decade and a half later comes a feature film that hangs off this idea of self-actualisation, written and directed by Andy Tennant and starring Katie Holmes.

The film was originally slated to be released into cinemas in April, and i'm going to liberate a line here from Vulture, who said that "the universe responded by closing down all movie theatres for the foreseeable future". Ha!

Cynicism and jokes aside, this is a cutesy little film, mostly harmless in the best tradition of Douglas Adams, and in fact quite a bit like one of Andy Tennant's other flicks, Sweet Home Alabama.

Katie Holmes plays Miranda, a widowed single mother raising three kids - Greg (Aidan Pierce Brennan), Missy (Sarah Hoffmeister) and Bess (Chloe Lee) - in America's deep south.

Life has delivered Miranda some hard knocks, but she's got a new beau in Tucker (Jerry O'Connell) who is prepared to marry her despite, as her mother-in-law Bobby (Celia Weston) says, her "amount of baggage, with three kids and a mountain of debt".

With that negative little devil whispering in her ear, no wonder Miranda can't cut a break.

Fate, karma, kismet, or possibly just the screenwriters bring along a mysterious stranger in the shape of Josh Lucas. His engineering lecturer character Bray swings into frame holding an equally mysterious envelope, with a red wax seal, destined to be handed to Miranda.

When they do meet - she hits his car - he puts the envelope aside and fixes her bumper, gets philosophical, and then later fixes the roof of her house when a storm drives a tree into it.

Has the universe thrown them together? Has he manifested out of Miranda's wishes?

How will Tucker take this handsome stranger suddenly implicating himself into the life of his fiancé?

There are good messages in this film. Bray's character posits that "Whatever happens, even the bad stuff, can lead to better things."

He's right. For me, the past pains of lost jobs or relationships have led to the present. It's true for those with the glass-half-full approach to life.

Plenty of folk are going through difficult times right now, and so the messaging may hit home for many.

I don't know that the writers - Tennant shares credit with Rick Parkes and Bekah Brunstetter - intend to break as many hearts as they might when real-life viewers don't get, as one character does, the pony they wish for.

But this is syrupy dream confection in the tradition of the dozen or so Nicholas Sparks films that audiences implausibly adore, and so I imagine quite an audience out there.

It is inoffensively made, if just a little bit heavy-handed on the trimmings.

There are plenty of single mums out there who'd love for a Josh Lucas to sweep into their lives and offer to take the kids to gymboree while they crack a chardy, but I'd rather wish for the pony.

This story Syrupy story of self-actualisation first appeared on The Canberra Times.