The Secret: Dare to Dream seems to present itself as an inspirational film, but it doesn’t try very hard to inspire. Yet the minimal effort the filmmakers put into character and plot development are the least of its problems. We are at an important historical crossroads for moms and people of color. We are experiencing a moment, and The Secret just feels tone deaf for the times we are living in.
Here’s the problem. The Secret has white privilege written all over it. It’s based on Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller of the same title from almost 15 years ago. It espouses a philosophy called the Laws of Attraction. There is power in positive thinking, but this self-help book dives into the deep end of New Age mumbo jumbo where all you have to do is think about what you want, and you will get it. And perhaps for well-to-do white people, that is the case.
What The Secret is About: The Laws of Attraction
In The Secret Katie Holmes plays Miranda, a broke single mom who can’t afford pizza, much less repairs to her home after damage from a storm. But then her minivan collides into the rear bumper of a stranger’s car, and her life, and luck, changes. As the stranger, named Bray (Josh Lucas) becomes a part of her life, Miranda and her children mysteriously start receiving the things they wish for out loud, from pizza to a brand new SUV.
The Laws of Attraction are at the heart of Miranda’s magical material gain. If you weren’t familiar with the book, you might just think The Secret is a watered-down Cinderella story. In this day and age, moms the world over are making a heroic effort to care for and educate their kids, often while working from home.
The movie repeatedly characterizes Miranda as fragile and broken, stressed out and exhausted, without celebrating her for the heroic job she does as a single mom providing for her three kids. Instead of empowering her, time and again a man comes to her financial rescue, whether it’s Bray, her boring fiancé Tucker (Jerry O’Connell), or even her dead husband.
Why The Secret feels out of touch
The Laws of Attraction are wishful thinking, and the philosophy (religion?) removes blood, sweat and tears of hard work and struggle out of the equation of getting what you want. What if you start out on unequal footing in the first place? If a single mom is living in poverty and working three jobs to provide for her family, she is thinking about her bills. The Secret argues that if you think about bills, you will just get more bills. It’s hardly fair to say that if this mom just changes her thinking, things will immediately turn around. It can happen for her, but it could take years, and it would all be thanks to that mom’s hard work and persistence.
For white people who are already in a position of privilege, thinking about what you want and getting it isn’t such a stretch. But in the face of a pandemic, people of all races and walks of life are struggling for real, and a movie promoting the power of mystical thinking just feels out of touch. Yes, as a society right now we need feel-good movies, but we need feel-good movies that are authentic and that resonate with the times we are living in.
Diversity is important
I also wish that the filmmakers had made a tiny effort toward diversity in casting. I’m sorry, but the Black dentist and friend with two lines each doesn’t cut it. Every single character with any significant screen time is white. Come on, Hollywood. We can do better.
I am always on the lookout for meaningful family films. The filmmakers of The Secret need to revisit their vision boards and make a movie that has meaning for diverse audiences, right now.