Loosely inspired by the “Secret” self-help books by Rhonda Byrne, “The Secret: Dare to Dream” wants to remind us of those bland, coastal Nicholas Sparks romances where white, pretty people don resort wear to take walks on beaches and barbecue shrimp together. Also, there’s a secret you’ll figure out long before anyone in the movie does.
It’ll take you even less time to figure this out: Celia Weston is an acting treasure.
She has the fourth-largest role in this wan romance, in which the only romantic scene isn’t even between what will turn out to be the main couple. But she’s the best part of “Dare to Dream” and it’s not even close. Weston almost always plays somebody’s plain-speaking mother. She may be best known as Cam’s mom on “Modern Family,” but her most vivid screen role is as a brash mother who talks to Ben Stiller about unconditional love in the riotous “Flirting With Disaster” and then declines to display it.
Weston plays Katie Holmes’ disapproving mom in “Dare to Dream.” Holmes is a widow who is engaged to a restaurateur (Jerry O’Connell) she does not seem to want to hang out with, partly because she’s more interested in the mysterious handyman (Josh Lucas) who suddenly shows up in her Louisiana town and starts fixing her roof and personal problems, gratis.
We’re supposed to think Weston is an annoying scold who won’t let her middle-aged daughter live her own life, but Weston is so vital and funny that I was inclined to agree with her every time she spoke. This is not the first time a movie’s villain has been more interesting than the supposed good guy, but “Dare to Dream” would be a lot more fun if Weston had a bigger part and if she were correct that Lucas is some sort of demonic Mr. Fix-It who only makes nice with Holmes and her kids because he plans to butcher them and store their organs in a freezer in a subterranean lair.
Alas, this is not that. The script doesn’t make clear what anyone wants or why anyone is attracted to anyone else, so the only sparks the characters possess are the ones canny actors such as Weston bring to them. The only fun to be had for moviegoers — and this is not a small thing because “Dare to Dream” is frequently, amusingly ridiculous — is to ponder goofball details such as this: Lucas helps Holmes’ daughter make her Sweet Sixteen party dreams come true by engineering a taffy pull. Because what adolescent doesn’t love the thrills and chills of a group taffy pull? (And, no, the movie does not take place in 1875.)
It’s all so safe and conflict-free that I can’t imagine I’ll be the only one who digs for tension beneath the placid, almost zombified surface of “Dare to Dream,” where the children behave perfectly, everyone’s motives are exactly what they seem and even a devastating hurricane is there to help the characters figure out their lives.
From what I can tell, that’s how Byrne’s books work — basically, positive thinking leads to good results — but forgive me for wishing this movie would instead follow the rambunctious, witty path that Weston’s character seems to promise.