How Stella Got Her Groove Back

on August 14, 1998 by Christine James
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   Adapted from Terry McMillan's novel of the same name, scripted by McMillan and Ron Bass, produced by Deborah Schindler and starring Angela Basset, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" reassembles the majority of the team behind 1995's "Waiting to Exhale" in the hopes of replicating the formula for boxoffice success ("Exhale" pleasantly surprised exhibitors by grossing more than $65 million domestically). The end result is essentially a duplication of "Exhale's" strengths and weaknesses. While the emotionally-charged characters and soul-searching scenarios are intriguing and promising, disappointingly shallow, muddled scripting and inorganic dialogue undermine the anticipated outcome.
   Stella (Angela Bassett) is a 40-year-old high-powered stockbroker, doting single mother and an anchor for her two nutty, self-absorbed sisters (Regina King and Suzzanne Douglas). She needs a vacation badly--so badly, in fact, that (in one of the movie's funnier scenes), when a Jamaican tourism commercial appears on the television, Stella is agape to see herself in the ad, luxuriantly soaking up the sun, sipping tropical drinks and befriending the hunky locals. Amply motivated, she calls her best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg) and the two spontaneously embark on a Caribbean adventure.
   Delilah immediately becomes acquainted with a cute but dim football player, and tries to foist his plump, lascivious friend on Stella. But a chance encounter with Winston Shakespeare, a striking man with a winning smile, has her preoccupied. He's sweet, has a sense of humor and is obviously smitten. The only problem is he's half her age.
   But the real problem, cinematically speaking, is that there is insufficient chemistry, more tension and fighting than romance, and no epiphanal moment to demonstrate that Stella has indeed gotten her groove back. Stella's always going to be tightly wound, and Winston's going to continue to think that a great date involves watching "Booty Call" while dining on Cocoa Puffs. There's simply not enough said about what they like about each other beyond their physical attraction to make their coupling seem feasible against the odds.
   No one wants to be involved with a relationship in which tempers are more fiery than passions, least of all a paying audience. However, there are numerous (if obvious and mostly uninspired) injections of sassy humor that play shamefully but successfully to the film's target demographic, as well as many stunning shots of gorgeous Angela Bassett, well-defined Taye Diggs, and of course sumptuously scenic Jamaica. If only the purported beauty of their love had been captured a fraction as well. Starring Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs and Whoopi Goldberg. Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan. Written by Terry McMillan & Ron Bass. Produced by Deborah Schindler. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 125 min
Tags: Starring Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, Whoopi Goldberg. Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan. Written by Terry McMillan, Ron Bass. Produced by Deborah Schindler, Fox, Comedy
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