Katie Holmes Josh Lucas
Sweet, syrupy, pure fantasy—I loved this movie! The joke’s on me, because it’s not the kind of film that I usually take to at all—in fact, I’m often averse to this kind of thing. Yet, there was something about it that moved me and sustained my interest the whole time. It’s basically a tension between ultra-realism and pragmatics vs. determinism—everything happens for a reason and beyond one’s control. (So just relax, and everything will work out.) I think it is the subtlety with which these ideas are presented that makes this film “excusable” to me.
The story is set up right away showing a life that seems hopeless. Miranda (Holmes) is a struggling widow with three kids. Her house is falling apart, she is forgetful, and her kids are so keenly aware that they can’t afford the kinds of things kids want, it continually reminds her of the loss of their dad. On the positive side, she has a secure job where the owner of the restaurant, Tucker (O’Connell), is attracted to her and a mother-in-law who—though bossy—is someone she can depend upon and truly cares about her and her children.
One day, when Miranda is arguing with her daughter in the car coming home from school, crash! she rear-ends someone in a pick-up truck. But the driver is one of those individuals who is intuitively sympathetic and empathic—so much so, he offers to repair her bumper, the only thing damaged. (Note: This is a continuation of the tension between optimism and pessimism.) Brad (Lucas) stays on the scene, helping her and her kids both emotionally and in practical things, like repairing the roof after a storm…all set up to continue the parable of self-determinism and fate.
The film is very well directed by Andy Tennant from a finely written script, and the actors led by Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas make the story zing. Yes, you’ll have little surprises along the way, although some of you will chafe at the predictability. But there are little tweaks that take it beyond the ordinary. For example, the mother-in-law (expertly executed by Celia Weston) is shown in stereotypical ways (i.e., obnoxious), but also with genuine caring and concern for her daughter-in-law. She represents the “good sense”, “practical” side of the story’s argument, along with her favorite, Tucker, who faithfully pursues someone he cherishes.
But Brad represents the figure who, after a traumatic event, alters his life toward one of acceptance and hope, taking in stride whatever happens and making the best of it for others as well as for oneself. This attitude is shown to be inspiring to kids as well as adults, and is the central message of the film.
The Secret turns out to be a nice surprise, and one that could stimulate more serious discussion later.