In 1995, Terry McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale opened up a new, untapped, genre of film, the black women’s movie. Now, she and Exhale co-writer Ron Bass have teamed up once again to adapt her novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. And with an excellent performance from Angela Bassett, and some competent direction by Kevin Rodney Sullivan, they’ve managed to create a thoroughly enjoyable romantic drama.
The Stella of the title is Stella Payne (Angela Bassett), a high-powered wall street deal maker. We never quite learn how she lost her groove, except by her employment in the soulless money market. However, she begins to take steps toward her recovery when she goes on a Jamaican holiday with her best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg).
There, she meets Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs), a resort employee who is literally half her age. Attracted to him at first on a purely physical basis, and later on, well, a purely physical basis, Stella gets romantically involved with the kid.
As the relationship continues, Stella must cope with her family (who disapproves… her son (Michael J. Pagan) is closer to Winston’s age than she is), as well as difficulties at her job. Will the love of this pair of starcrossed lovers survive?
At least Stella and Winston make a cute, if slightly unbelievable, couple. And the delightful performance of Angela Bassett makes you want to root for anything which will make her happy.
The movie does get a bit excessive with a few unnecessary melodramatic touches, and runs a bit longer than it should, but for the most part it is charming and endearing.
The supporting cast does well, with a strong performance by Whoopi, and humorous turns from Regina King and Suzzanne Douglas as Stella’s wayward sisters. But the best supporting player has to be the island of Jamaica, which steals every scene it is in with its stunning vistas. The tourist bureau couldn’t ask for a better advertisement.
As a light romantic drama, How Stella Got Her Groove Back works surprisingly well. And, as long as you ignore its attempts at being deeper than it really is, you’ll have a good time.