"Life Is But a Dream"
Terry McMillan, known for her bestseller WAITING TO EXHALE, brings to the screen a story that reflects her own personal experience in HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK.
Stella, played by Angela Bassett, is an attractive, 40-year-old, high-salaried, and overworked stock broker with a beautiful home overlooking San Francisco. Her family and friends are concerned because Stella does not make time for herself to have any fun in her life. Her best friend of 22 years, a crazy woman named Delilah and played by Whoopi Goldberg, encourages Stella to break out of her rut by taking a vacation with her to Jamaica. With plenty of prodding, Stella, a single mom whose son Quincy is off visiting his dad, agrees to go.
On her first day in Jamaica, a charming and handsome 20-year-old Jamaican named Winston Shakespeare, played by Taye Diggs, quickly makes her acquaintance. Although Stella is attracted to this man, she is reluctant at first because of their age difference. She soon gives in to her sensual desires. Delilah encourages Stella to enjoy her fling, and she is pleased to see her best friend so happy and alive. Winston is crazy about Stella and has no problems with their age difference. In the middle of Stella’s vacation, however, Winston gets hired as an assistant chef, a job that gives him little time off. Perceiving his business to be a brush-off, Stella ignores all of Winston’s phone calls at the hotel and leaves the island without saying goodbye.
Arriving back home and reuniting with her son, Stella receives a surprise phone call from Winston saying how much he misses her. Ecstatic, Stella decides to take her son and niece back to Jamaica to meet him. Her younger sister, Angela, accuses Stella of “robbing the cradle” and acting “desperate.” Stella disregards her comments and flies to Jamaica. During her stay there, she receives an emergency call from the hospital regarding Delilah that requires Stella to fly to New York. Winston follows her back to the States, and their relationship takes some interesting turns.
HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK has some funny moments, but the story as a whole is not believable. First of all, the audience may have difficulty identifying with the two main characters because of inconsistencies in their development. Stella, although the movie depicts her as an overworked 40-year-old who hasn’t had any fun or time for herself, still looks refreshed and energetic throughout. Even when she decides to go on the trip at the last minute, she has all the sexy and trendy party clothes she needs to wear in Jamaica. Winston, who supposedly just turned 20, does not display many of the characteristics typical for someone his age. Secondly, the significant issue of their age difference is tossed out in the movie but never brought to a resolution. Their relationship appears to be romanticized rather than realistically portrayed. Even the lens of the camera at times captures scenes in a dreamlike state.
The strong emphasis on physical appearances in this movie sends a troubling message to the audience. Stella and Winston’s initial attraction is based solely on appearances, and this physical element is what keeps them together throughout the movie. Although there is an attempt to demonstrate some emotional bonding between them, it feels as if it is being thrown in as an afterthought. Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, making his film debut, chose two attractive actors to play the main characters. Many 40-year-old women may especially have trouble identifying with Stella.
Delilah’s character, played quite well by Whoopi Goldberg, delivers the most laughs and is the most believable in the movie because she speaks her mind naturally. Her life, however, takes a sudden turn in the movie that surfaces too quickly, without enough build-up, to make the plot twist seem genuine. Stella’s two sisters, Angela and Vanessa, also provide some laughs.
The central premise in this movie is that a woman can do whatever she wants in seeking her fulfillment; she doesn’t have to pay attention to society’s rules and norms. This message is a hedonistic one: do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy. Certainly, the women in HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK do not reflect the values that Christian women would want to emulate.
(Pa, H, Ro, LL, SSS, NN, A, M) Pagan worldview with humanist & romantic views about the human condition; 13 obscenities & discussions about sex; no violence; several lovemaking scenes between two unmarried characters; upper female nudity, rear male nudity & people in skimpy bathing suits & underwear; alcohol use; and, hedonism.