How Stella Got Her Groove Back
November 22, 2018
Kevin Rodney Sullivan
2 Hrs., 4 Mins.
oing to Jamaica and having sex with a hard-bodied 20-year-old there is a great way to get a groove back in one's middle age. To really keep the groove, though, one should consider starting a long-term relationship with that 20-year-old. Because you never know: you might find love. At least I think that’s what How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), a misguided farce from Kevin Rodney Sullivan, wants us
Turns out that a rather "forbidden" romance does not a subversive, possibly even “inspiring,” rom-com make: The most this previously mentioned relationship does for the eponymous Stella is distract her until someone better comes along. I bet a month or two after the movie’s rom-com-ready finale concluded, our heroine and her toy boy broke up. I wonder what Stella’s doing as of 2018. What is her groove up to?
The search for the groove, of course, is on when How Stella Got Her Groove Back opens. The title protagonist, played by Angela Bassett, is a single mom who recently turned 40 — and ennui envelops her. She is at the height of her professional success as a cutthroat stock broker, but she hasn’t been in a meaningful romantic relationship in years. Her family, and especially her best friend, Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg), reproach her for her lacking of a love life. And though she feigns confidence in her singlehood, the truth is is that she really is looking for a fresh start.
Early on in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, while thumbing through scrapbooks and reminiscing, a television commercial advertising the vacation-oriented wonders of Jamaica catches Stella’s eye. In a funny visual trick, her face is superimposed on every woman in the commercial — her hunger for some time off, apparently, is strong enough to tamper with her vision. Impulsively, Stella calls Delilah, and proposes they fly to the island country. Certainly, it would be nice to bask in the wonders of the beach and the luxuries of fine dining. Maybe they’ll meet potential beaus, too. Shortly afterward, Stella dials her friend again and passes off her proposition as a short-lived fantasy. Delilah won’t have it. They’re going.
At first, the trip goes exactly how Stella, who is still anxious about the prospects of a romance, might have predicted. It is littered with exotic dishes and long beachside siestas; she, for once, cannot be bothered to think about her professional responsibilities. But things change, one morning, while she is eating breakfast alone, al fresco. Sitting a table over is an unduly handsome young man at whom Stella almost has to stop herself from making eyes. Fortuitously, the instant attraction is shared one. The man starts a conversation, and introduces himself as Winston (Taye Diggs), a 20-year-old native.
Initially, Stella teases him about his age, and reasons that her being drawn to him is silly. But after Winston invites the quadragenarian to a beachside costume party, where everyone dresses in their skimpiest sleepwear, she notices that her attraction to Winston is more than physical. She genuinely likes him. They eventually sleep together. But their relationship isn’t born, and then killed, in the span of a week. It continues well after Stella returns home, where everyone balks at the age difference and Stella’s supposed irrationality.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back attempts to overcome its hoary material by trying to prove to us that age, as Aaliyah evinced in 1994, isn't anything but a number. But the film, which was penned by Waiting to Exhale (1995) co-screenwriters Terry McMillian and Ron Bass, is, like the latter movie, gauche and wantingly plotted. They cannot convince us that Stella and Winston like doing a lot more than having sex with each other — though it’s clear that Winston, who is inexperienced when it comes to long-term romance, really is smitten with this woman — and Diggs and Bassett, who have no chemistry, can’t either. This is a fling at best, but the feature tries to sell the relationship as, ahem, a groove-restorer.
It’s disappointing that the movie is so wobbly. Bassett, when working with solid material, is dynamic and exciting to watch. Even in a film in which she has a relatively small role, like 1992’s excellent Passion Fish, she can be scintillating when the script is, too. But in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, which is gawky and prone to slut-shaming and ageism, she is undermined at every turn — something to which a leading actress of her vast capabilities should not be subjected. C-