Consider Miranda Wells’ last name a bit of surname irony. See, Miranda isn’t well. She’s not well at all.
Years ago, when her husband was still alive, perhaps things were different. Her step might’ve been lighter, her laugh might’ve been airier. She might’ve navigated issues with their three kids with more grace and joy.
But he’s been gone five years, and it seems like he took most of the joy with him. Now, Miranda’s staring at a leaky roof, a mountain of debt and kids who expect that each passing day will bring more bad luck. Oh, and guess what? That luck keeps coming. Their Louisiana home just might be in the path of tropical storm Hazel.
When Miranda’s boyfriend, Tucker, asks whether he should board his restaurant up before the storm, Miranda says absolutely: “No matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.”
But the incoming storm blows in something else from afar—a mysterious stranger named Bray. Miranda runs into him on the way home, quite literally: Her high-mileage minivan smacks square into Bray’s bumper. And while the back of his truck looks just fine, Miranda’s front bumper falls into the street.
But instead of taking her insurance info or threatening to sue, Bray offers to follow Miranda home and fix her bumper—free of charge.
And so he does, just as the rain from Hazel starts to fall. Miranda invites him to stay for dinner and to watch as the family positions pots around the house to catch the leaks. Miranda’s youngest daughter, Bess, confesses that she hates storms like this.
“Nature can be very powerful,” Bray admits, “but so are you.”
He tells her, as the rest of the family gathers closer, that thoughts can be a little like magnets: “The more you think about something, the more you draw it to you.” That’s why you have to be careful with your thoughts. If you always assume the worst will happen, chances are, it will.
Turns out Bray’s not just a nice, random traveler who has a fondness for platitudes. While he and Miranda officially met by chance, he was actually in town just to meet and talk with her; the small collision was just, he figures, the universe’s way of connecting them. Why is the universe so insistent? Bray doesn’t quite know.
And until he finds out, Bray plans to keep his own secret—why he needs to talk with Miranda—a little while longer.
The Secret: Dare to Dream has its share of problems. But throttle Bray’s message back a step or two, and you’ll find some good, common, inspirational sense behind it.
“I’m just open to the possibility that whatever happens, even the bad stuff, can lead to better things,” Bray says. That sounds like plain ol’ positivity there—the idea that our attitude can make a difference in the tough times. And that is, honestly and empirically, true. Doctors say that attitude can make a huge difference in the midst of serious sickness. When we treat people with respect and love, they often respond in kind. A lot of what Bray tells us here is almost biblical—to a point.
But it’s not just what Bray says, but what he does that’s special. Bray doesn’t just fix the bumper. When he returns the next day and finds a tree has crashed through the Wells family roof, he volunteers to fix that, too. He spends days working on the property, charging only for the bit of materials he needs to do the work.
He took a week off. He has the skills to do it. Why not help? If more of us asked the same question of ourselves, the world would be a better place.
And let’s not overlook Miranda, either. Trying to raise three kids single-handedly as a widow isn’t easy, but she does the very best she can.
Dare to Dream loves its spiritually tinged Albert Einstein quotes.
The film opens with one printed across the screen: “There are only two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” Bray (An engineering professor from Vanderbilt University) quotes him, too: “Coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous.” He paraphrases the physicist just a half a beat later: “Every person should ask themselves if this is a friendly universe,” Bray quotes. The answer, he says, determines the trajectory of your entire life.
The movie is quite spiritual—but not in a particularly Christian way. Instead of all blessings flowing through God, Dare to Dream suggests they grow from within each of us.
The movie is based on the self-help book The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes, which itself was allegedly inspired by Matthew 21:22: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Byrne took that verse to heart, but (I gather) stripped it of both context and, mostly, of the religion it came from.
Little surprise that Bray only mentions God when quoting Einstein. He suggests instead that “the universe” is trying to tell him something. He follows his instinct, because some force, untethered to any sort of theological structure, is leading him.
Bray seems so peaceful and centered and wise that Missy, Miranda’s teen daughter, asks him if he’s a Buddhist. (When Miranda’s asked about her own bad luck, incidentally, she chalks it up to “karma.”) It’s interesting that, even though the story takes place in Louisiana, one of the most Christian states in the U.S., the most overt references we hear about a religion all point much farther East.
Miranda has a boyfriend to whom she gets engaged during the film. Miranda’s former mother-in-law volunteers to watch her children until the next morning so that Miranda and her new fiance, Tucker, can “celebrate.” Later, when Miranda discusses the engagement with her children, teen Missy says that it doesn’t matter what they think: “You’re the one who has to sleep with him.”
Miranda kisses and holds hands with her fella. Her outfits can expose just a bit of cleavage and a bra strap. Bray says that he and his ex-wife wanted to start a family. “Turns out she started one with someone else,” he says.
In flashback, we see the wreckage of a small airplane and someone struggling to survive inside: His head is injured and bloody, and some plane wreckage is pressed against his legs. We later hear that all but one person aboard the flight died.
Someone gets slapped across the face. A massive storm does some pretty serious property damage. Miranda thunks her car into the rear of Bray’s truck.
A handful of profanities such as “h—” and “d–n,” along with about a half dozen misuses of God’s name.
Characters drink wine and what appears to be whiskey. When Miranda invites Bray to dinner, she says that there’s a beer in the fridge with his name on it.
Bess, Miranda’s youngest daughter, apparently tells someone she has a horse. She doesn’t, but Miranda tries to make the girl feel better by saying that the little horse figurine she owns and loves counts as a horse.
Missy has a pretty bad attitude throughout the first part of the film and backtalks her mom quite a bit. Greg, Miranda’s son, talks to a stranger, even after his mom has forbidden him from doing so.
While this isn’t exactly a negative, it takes Bray a very long time to tell Miranda why he came down to talk with her. The delay causes some rather uncomfortable misunderstandings.
Some Christian movies are great. Some are … less so.
So hear me when I tell you that The Secret: Dare to Dream feels a lot like a subpar Christian movie. It feels clunky, preachy and a bit too on-the-nose. It offers plenty of minor “miracles” as it trudges toward its conclusion. But this story lacks the strength that Christian movies have: An understanding of, and an adherence to, the Greatest Story of them all.
Dare to Dream is built on one premise: That we have the power to think ourselves to happiness, or prosperity or even (the movie suggests) the ability to push away hurricanes. All we need to do is think about these things in the right way.
Now, this is not wholly insane: We know that being grateful for what we have can lead to more happiness. We know that if we approach challenges and the future with confidence, that confidence can influence that outcome. Attitude is a huge key when it comes to how happy or satisfied with life we are, and how we deal with adversity when it comes.
But Dare to Dream goes well beyond the redemptive power of positive thinking and moves into the power of magical thinking: If we know what we want and believe it’ll happen, we’ll get the hotel room we covet, the restaurant reservations we desire, maybe even the weather we want. It’s not God blessing us with these things: These are gifts we give to ourselves, if we only follow “The Secret.”
This movie’s magical logic is not just anti-Christian. It’s not just un-scientific. It’s positively insulting, no matter how cheerfully the movie’s characters pursue its ends. We all know people with great attitudes who love the Lord who still seem to suffer more than “luck” should strictly allow for. Does that mean that these wonderful people—when they deal with sickness or financial reversals or disasters—just weren’t thinking about the issue correctly?
There are those who would say that placing our hope in God opens the same can of worms—that an all-powerful, all-loving deity should protect us from the world’s all-too-frequent horrors. And yet, the Book that chronicles God’s love for us (that’d be the Bible) makes no secret that the world does hold horrors—that good people suffer, that righteous people struggle. The Secret book may superficially appropriate Matthew 21:22. But in the Bible, that verse is leavened by John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The hope we’re given as believers has nothing to do with conjuring up our own blessings through right-thinking. Instead, it’s grounded in Christ and His love for us. I’ll take that any day over the universe’s strangely bureaucratic system of approval that we see in Dare to Dream.
Speaking of bureaucratic concerns, Dare to Dream doesn’t have a lot of them. This PG film steers away from overt violence and sexuality. It’s even pretty light on language.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Sometimes a movie’s true quality falls outside that spreadsheet: Films with powerful, inspirational messages can sometimes have some difficult content. Dare to Dream is a rare movie that falls on the other side of the ledger: It’s a pretty clean movie with a pretty corrosive worldview, too.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.