Review: ‘The Secret: Dare to Dream,’ starring Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas

August 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” 

Directed by Andy Tennant

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New Orleans area and partially in Nashville, the dramatic film “The Secret: Dare to Dream” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) presenting the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash:  A widowed mother who is financially struggling meets a stranger with a secret who upends her life in ways that she does not expect.

Culture Audience: “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted but formulaic movies that promote the power of positive thinking.

Katie Homes, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Sarah Hoffmeister and Chloe Lee in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo by Alfonso Pompo Bresciani/Lionsgate)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” is the type of movie where it’s very easy to predict how it’s going to end, even if people don’t know that this scripted drama is inspired by Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling self-help book “The Secret.” Yes, the movie is utterly formulaic and a little preachy, but it’s elevated by the very good performances of stars Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, who have utterly believable chemistry together as two people who change each other’s lives for the better. The rest of the cast members also do a fine job of bringing this heart-warming story to life.

Directed by Andy Tennant (who also worked with Lucas on the 2002 romantic comedy “Sweet Home Alabama”), “The Secret: Dare to Dream” hits a lot of the same beats as movies that might end up on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. But what separates “The Secret: Dare to Dream” from movies that are usually made for television is how terrific the casting is in “The Secret: Dare to Dream.” Viewers of this movie can recognize parts of themselves or people they know as the story unfolds.

The movie’s screenplay by Bekah Brunstetter, Tennant and Rick Parks could have been ruined if the wrong actors had been cast. But everyone brings an authenticity to their roles in a way that it looks they’re portraying people who really are like these characters in the real world. The cast members don’t come across as just actors saying their lines in a contrived and fake environment. (It also helps that the movie, which primarily takes place in Louisiana, was shot on location.)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” begins with the arrival of a tropical storm called Hazel that’s ready to batter the New Orleans area. Miranda Wells (played by Holmes), a widowed mother of three, is at her job on the day that the storm is supposed to hit that night. Miranda (whose husband died more than five years ago) is the manager of a restaurant called Middendorf’s, a casual mid-sized eatery that’s owned by Tucker Middendorf (played by Jerry O’Connell), who comes from a wealthy family in the area.

Miranda has made a good deal that day to buy some late-season soft-shell seafood, and she’s praised for it by Tucker, who happens to be her boyfriend of about three years. Miranda has an early-afternoon dentist appointment, where she gets some disappointing news: She has to have a root canal, but since she opted out of dental coverage for her health insurance, she’s going to have to pay the out-of-pocket expenses, which she can’t really afford right now.

How bad are Miranda’s financial problems? Before she went to the dentist’s office, she’s seen calling her bank to tell them to reverse the charges on a bounced check, which is a check that she probably didn’t think would be presented to the bank as quickly as it was. The receptionist at the dentist office notices that the cost of the root canal is distressing to Miranda, so she asks Miranda if Tucker might be willing to cover the expenses. Miranda quickly dismisses that idea, “because tings are complicated because he’s my boss.”

Meanwhile, a handsome stranger from Nashville is seen checking into a nearby boutique hotel. His name is Bray Johnson (played by Lucas), who is a mechanical engineering professor at Vanderbilt University. Bray, who has an easygoing and friendly manner, tells the hotel’s front-desk employee Sloane (played by Sydney Tennant) that it’s his first time in New Orleans.

What Bray doesn’t tell her is why he’s traveled to New Orleans: He needs to deliver a legal-sized envelope to Miranda. (What’s in the envelope isn’t revealed in the movie until much later in the story.) Bray notices that Sloane is reading LSAT tutorial books to prepare for law school applications. Bray and Sloane talk about her goal to become an attorney, and he wishes her good luck.

Bray is carrying the envelope with him when he stops by Miranda’s house unannounced in the afternoon. She isn’t home, but her son Greg (played by Aidan Pierce Brennan), Miranda’s middle child who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is there because he’s taken a sick day home from school. Greg is out by a backyard creek when Bray first sees him, and they have a pleasant conversation where Greg mentions that his late father was an inventor.

Greg also seems to be interested in mechanics and science, so mechanical engineering professor Bray and Greg form an instant bond. Greg tells Bray that Miranda will be home after 4 p.m., so he can come back then to deliver the envelope. Greg also asks Bray not to tell Miranda that they spoke because Greg isn’t allowed to talk to strangers. Bray promises to keep their conversation a secret.

Meanwhile, Miranda’s mother-in-law Bobby Wells (played by Celia Weston), calls Miranda to express how worried she is about the leaky roof in Miranda’s house because of the impending storm. Miranda’s declines Bobby’s offer for Miranda and Miranda’s kids to stay at Bobby’s house during the storm. It’s pretty clear early on in the film that Miranda has a pattern of being too proud to ask for help, even when her life is falling apart.

Miranda picks her other two children up from school: teenage Missy (played Sarah Hoffmeister) and Bess, also known as Bessie (played by Chloe Lee, in her film debut), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Missy is cranky and on edge because her upcoming 16th birthday party is going to be held on the same day as a party thrown by fellow classmate who can afford to have food trucks at her party. Missy thinks her own party will be a flop because her schoolmates will prefer to go to the fancier party.

Missy resents that Miranda doesn’t make enough money for them to be financially secure. Missy has wanted to get a computer for quite some time, but Miranda can’t afford it. By contrast, Bess is a sweet-natured kid who doesn’t cause much of a fuss.

While Miranda is driving home with her two daughters, Missy and Miranda get into an argument, which causes Miranda to be distracted from the road. Miranda ends up having a minor fender-bender accident with the car in front of her. The accident causes the front bumper on Miranda’s car to fall off. And who’s the driver of the other car? It’s Bray, who’s not as upset by the car accident as most people would be.

Miranda makes profuse apologies to Brady and mentions that she has car insurance, but her policy has a $5,000 deductible that she can’t afford. Bray sees how upset she is and kindly offers to fix the front bumper for free. Miranda can’t believe her good luck, so she says that Bray can follow her back to her house and work on the car there.

When Bray follows Miranda to the house, he’s surprised to see it’s the same house that he was at earlier in the day, and he realizes that the woman who hit his car is Miranda. Bray decides to wait to give the envelope to Miranda, since she obviously has other things on her mind. Bray sees Greg again, but they both pretend that they’re meeting for the first time.

When Bray introducers himself, he tells Miranda and the kids a little bit more about himself, but he doesn’t mention the envelope. While Bray (with Greg watching) works on the car outside, Missy looks up information about Bray online, and sees that his story about being a Vanderbilt University professor is true. She shows the proof to Miranda, and they both feel a little better knowing that Bray seems to be honest about who he is.

When it starts to get dark and the storm begins, Miranda invites Bray to stay for dinner. Bray’s almost Zen-like demeanor prompts Missy to ask Bray if he’s a Buddhist. He says no, but he does spout some platitudes that indicate that he’s a deep thinker who believes that thoughts can be turned into reality.

For example, Bray tells Bess: “We have to be careful because we get what we expect.” And in the kitchen, when he shows the kids how magnets have unseen forces, he says that people’s thoughts are like magnets: “The more you think about something, the more you draw it to you.”

The kids all want to have pizza for dinner, but Miranda says no. But just as Bray is telling them that thoughts will manifest themselves into reality, he asks the kids to imagine what kind of pizza they want. They give vivid descriptions. And then, like clockwork, during the rainstorm, a pizza delivery guy is at their door with some pizza.

It’s not magic. It turns out that Tucker had ordered the pizza as a thoughtful surprise. Miranda thinks it’s a lucky coincidence. Bray has a look on his face as if he thinks it’s not a coincidence. (And he utters this line later in the movie; “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”) Bray and Miranda also look at each other in a way that maybe something else is happening between them that’s more than politeness between two strangers.

Through a series of events, Bray ends up staying in New Orleans longer than expected. He also opens up to Miranda about his relationship status. Bray, who has no children, went through a painful divorce more than 10 years ago because his ex-wife cheated on him. He also hints that he went through another devastating event, which is shown in a flashback.

Meanwhile, Tucker notices that Miranda and Bray are getting closer as platonic friends, so he makes moves to assert his romantic relationship with Miranda, who doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get married again. Bobby approves of Tucker being Miranda’s boyfriend because Tuck is nice to Miranda and the kids and because Tuck is rich. Bobby wants her grandchildren to have a more financially stable life, so she tells Miranda not to doing anything that would ruin Miranda’s relationship with Tucker.

And what exactly is in that envelope? Although the relationships are easy to predict in this movie, what’s in the envelope isn’t that easy to predict. But when it’s revealed, it will permanently alter the lives of all the main characters in this story. The mystery of what’s in the envelope is another reason why “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will keep viewers hooked into finding out what will happen.

The movie is capably directed and the scenic cinematography is good, but the movie’s main appeal is with the human relationships and how personalities are realistically portrayed. When Bray starts sharing his life philosophies and gets some of the people in the story to begin thinking about their lives differently, he doesn’t come across as “holier than thou” or a “too good to be true” preacher type. His emotional pain is just beneath the surface of his calm demeanor, and Lucas does a great job in making Bray a very believable human being who’s learned a lot from his life experiences.

Holmes gives a richly nuanced performance as a single mother who wants to be a “superwoman” to the outside world, whereas on the inside she’s also in emotional pain, as well as vulnerable and fearful of how she’s going to get through life. Miranda doesn’t pretend to be perfect, but she learns some lessons about how asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Part of the movie’s obvious message is not about what problems people have but how they deal with those problems.

A movie doesn’t have to be Oscar-worthy to be enjoyable. Many times, it’s about how convincing the movie is in drawing viewers into its world and how a movie makes you feel after you’ve seen it. “The Secret: Dare to Dream” sticks to a certain formula that people can expect, especially in how the story ends, but the movie’s positive message makes it an uplifting ride along the way.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Secret: Dare to Dream” on digital and VOD on July 31, 2020.

Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim and Josh Lucas

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Lyn Sheil in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“She Dies Tomorrow” 

Directed by Amy Seimetz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow” features a predominantly white cast (with one Asian person, one black person and one Latino person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman spreads her fear of dying to the people closest to her.

Culture Audience: “She Dies Tomorrow” will appeal primarily to people who have a high tolerance of incoherent movies that have vague endings.

Jane Adams and Josh Lucas in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

When a filmmaker makes a weird movie for the sake of being “unique” or “edgy,” what’s sometimes left out of the equation is ” interesting.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being weird, but when you create a story that is extremely boring, then people will feel like they wasted their time paying attention. Unfortunately, that is the end result of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s horrifically self-indulgent and mind-numbingly dull psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow.” The movie is only 84 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this movie. “She Dies Tomorrow” is definitely not a horror film. Instead, it’s a mash-up of scenes showing a bunch of unhappy people in Los Angeles who keep predicting that they’re going to die tomorrow. There are some multi-colored (usually red, blue and green) strobe-light effects that fill the screen every time this feeling of impending doom overtakes each person.

But this spooky, almost hallucinogenic cinematography is not a sign that there’s some outside force from outer space or an evil spirit causing this morbid gloom and doom. In fact, there isn’t much of an explanation for anything that goes on in this story. In a nutshell: The movie is about people who become convinced that they’re going to “die tomorrow.” When they say this negative and morbid thought out loud to other people, that thought spreads to those other people like a virus.

It’s shown in the beginning of the film that the person who seems to have started the spread of this mental virus is a woman named Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives alone in her house in Los Angeles. Amy is depressed about something, so she gets drunk, and is overwhelmed with the feeling that she’s going to die tomorrow.

There are way too many shots of Amy stumbling around in a sequined dress and doing things like stroking the panels on her hardwood floors and looking at random things on her laptop computer. One of the things she looks at online is a set of leather jackets for sale. And she also inexplicably goes in her backyard to set some paper on fire. (It’s never revealed what was on the paper and why she wanted to burn it.)

Amy’s middle-aged friend Jane (played by Jane Adams) comes over and sees Amy in this pathetic state. Amy is so drunk that she says to Jane, “I wonder if I could be made into a leather jacket.” And then she says the fateful words to Jane: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

Jane replies that Amy will definitely die if Amy continues to relapse. Amy then repeats her macabre prediction: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane tells Amy that she won’t, but Amy insists that she will. They go back and forth with this argument for a minute or two.

After a few more random and nonsensical scenes that include Amy waking up as if she just had a nightmare, Jane is shown walking zombie-like into a party at the house of her brother Jason (played by Chris Messina) and Jason’s wife Susan (played by Katie Aselton). It’s a small, low-key gathering to celebrate Susan’s birthday.

The only other guests there are a younger couple named Brian (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (played by Jennifer Kim), who have very different demeanors at the party. Tilly makes an effort to be talkative and outgoing, while Brian is mostly silent and looks uncomfortable.

Jane’s sudden arrival surprises the people at the party, because she had apparently told Jason and Susan that she wasn’t going to attend. Not only has Jane somewhat crashed the party, but she’s acting spaced-out and melancholy, which ruins the party’s previously upbeat atmosphere. Almost everyone’s been drinking alcohol at the party, where Jane utters the fateful words: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

There really isn’t much left to the story, except that Jane ends up in a doctor’s office, where the doctor (played by Josh Lucas) immediately thinks that something is psychologically wrong with Jane. Meanwhile, this “mental virus” spreads to Jason and Susan, who traumatize their teenage daughter Madison (played by Madison Calderon) when they both tell her that they’re going to die tomorrow.

There are also nonlinear flashback scenes of Amy and her relationship with a guy around her age named Craig (played by Kentucker Audley), who apparently started as someone who might have been looking to rent a room, because in one of the flashbacks, Amy gives Craig a tour of the house, as if he’s a potential renter. But somehow Amy and Craig ended up becoming lovers—there are no sex scenes in the movie, but it’s shown they had an intimate relationship.

However, this relationship didn’t last. Amy and Craig broke up, and Craig took the breakup very badly. The beginning of the film shows him having a meltdown in the living room where he shouts, “It’s over! … There’s no tomorrow!” And then there’s a scene later in the film of Craig lying dead on a house floor with a gun nearby. It’s left up to viewers to interpret what happened to Craig.

There’s also a bizarre cameo scene in a swimming pool of a woman named Skye (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and a woman named Erin (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), where Skye says, “Hi, I’m Skye. I’m dying.” Erin replies, “I’m Erin. I’m dying too.” And then the swimming pool starts to become filled with blood. Erin says, “I think I’m on my period.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In the production notes for “She Dies Tomorrow,” writer/director Seimetz explains what inspired the movie: “I was dealing with my own personal anxiety and found I was spreading my panic to other people by talking about it perhaps too excessively—while simultaneously watching a ton of news and watching mass anxiety spreading on the right and left politically. All this while remembering losing my father and many friends, that we all die at some point. We don’t know what to do but keep living, realizing the absurdity and tragedy that ‘with life comes death.’”

If the purpose of “She Dies Tomorrow” is to make viewers feel like they’re stuck watching miserable people who want their lives to end, while you can’t wait for this rambling and messy movie to end, then it succeeds in that goal.

Neon released “She Dies Tomorrow” in select U.S. cinemas on July 31, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is August 7, 2020.