EmptyPARIS -- "The Secret," Vincent Perez's remake of Yojiro Takita's "Himitsu" (1999) transposed to small-town America, is a variation on the afterlife dramas in such films as "Ghost" (1990) and "Birth" (2004). The success of such movies suggests this mainly French production could generate moderate ticket sales.
The premise is that, on the point of death after a horrendous road accident, a mother is able, in order to remain close to her husband, to transfer her soul into the body of her teenage daughter.
Samantha (newcomer Olivia Thirlby), or Sam to family and friends, is a typical 16-year-old -- bright, outgoing, but occasionally surly toward her parents, particularly her mother Hannah (Lily Taylor) whom she accuses of treating her like a child. It is her peevishness that distracts Hannah while she is driving, causing the accident that sees both rushed to a hospital in critical condition.
Hannah dies. Sam lives, but with Hannah's memories and consciousness. Hannah's distraught husband Ben (David Duchovny) is incredulous when his wife speaks to him through Sam's lips, but is finally persuaded that Hannah is still around though located in his daughter's body.
A close, loving couple, they decide that "Hannah" should resume her daughter's studies so that when and if her daughter returns from whatever limbo she finds herself in, she may be able to slot back in as she was before.
This means her having to mix in with, and in the case of the testosterone-driven young males Justin (Corey Sevier) and Ethan (Brendan Sexton) face amorous advances from, Sam's college friends. Meanwhile Sam's guidance counselor Tara (Macha Grenon) starts taking a sympathetic and then distinctly friendly interest in Ben, triggering a bout of jealousy in Hannah.
The complications set in, not the least of them being the issue of conjugal relations. Ben makes it clear to "Hannah" early on that sex is out because it would be dangerously close to incest. As the frustrations mount, she complains: "I can't get laid." Ben responds: "I know the feeling." The filmmakers decide to play story of thwarted romance straight, but at times like these the dialogue smacks of Woody Allen.
As the movie gears up for the inevitable bittersweet ending, we feel briefly for Ben and the confusion he faces in his dual role as husband and father to two women apparently inhabiting the same body. Duchovny's playing of Ben is too wooden, the screenplay's handling of the life-and-death issues too prosaic and the ending too contrived and sentimental for the movie to be truly affecting.
On the plus side, Thirlby does an excellent job in the mother-daughter role, one minute a graceless schoolgirl, the next a mature, married woman stuck inside a teenager's body. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy adds the requisite sheen, while Perez, an actor making only his second feature, knows enough not to overdo the sugar coating.
Director: Vincent Perez
Screenwriter: Ann Cherkis
Producer: Virginie Besson-Silla
Director of photography: Paul Sarossy
Production designer: Serge Bureau
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly
Costume designer: Francois Barbeau
Editor: Yves Beloniak
Ben: David Duchovny
Hannah: Lily Taylor
Sam: Olivia Thirlby
Ethan: Brendan Sexton
Justin: Corey Sevier
Ian: Ashley Springer
Amelia: Laurence Leboeuf
Maggie: Jane Wheeler
Lindsay: Millie Tresierra
Tara: Macha Grenon
Running time -- 93 minutes
No MPAA rating