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Review: 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' sudsy, sexy fun

Web posted on: Friday, August 14, 1998 2:29:52 PM

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is so slick that, at times, it almost slides off the screen. The diffused lighting and postcard-perfect scenes of Jamaica give this movie the feel of a squeaky-clean fairy tale rather than anything resembling real life. Still, it delivers.

Ultimately this is a sudsy, sexy, glossy production aimed like a heat seeking missle at its target audience of middle-aged, middle-class black women. It's an audience with a lot of clout, as Hollywood discovered when a previous novel by Terry McMillan, "Waiting To Exhale," became a $67 million motion picture bonanza in 1995. "Stella," based on McMillan's semi-autobiographical book by the same name, once again stars the very talented Angela Bassett with able assistance from Whoopi Goldberg.

Newcomer Taye Diggs appeared on Broadway in "Rent" playing "Benny the landlord. Now, in his feature film debut, he plays Winston, a 20-year-old Jamaican man who rocks Stella's world when she's on a Jamaican vacation. With Stella played by Angela Bassett, and with Bassett being Bassett, it is totally believable that a 20-year-old man would fall head-over-heels in love with this particuliar 40-year-old single mother.

Winter-spring romance payback

The age difference in "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" provides a little long-overdue payback for the recent spate of films featuring aging male stars salivating over female co-stars young enough to be their daughters or in some cases, granddaughters!

It helps that, unlike these other films (think "A Perfect Murder"), "Stella" actually makes the age difference the main issue. There is no doubt that a double-standard exists regarding older men involved with younger women, and the same type of situation happening the other way around.

This film is a stab in the right direction.

Bassett still has that remarkably toned body she developed for her Academy Award-nominated role playing Tina Turner in "What's Love Got To Do With It." Diggs' body is also picture-perfect. Between the two of them, I actually started thinking about dusting off my gym membership. (Nah.)

There are also some arty and very tasteful love scenes between Bassett and Diggs that rival those in "The Big Easy" and "Body Heat."


"How Stella Got Her Groove Back"

Clip - "That boy is cute":
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Paul's Pix: 7.1Mb QuickTime

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McMillan hoping 'Stella' grooves on big screen, too

Rocky road to happiness

However, the road to happiness is rocky as Stella faces outrage from friends and family over her new found hunk-a-hunk-a burning love. But best friend Delilah, played beautifully by Goldberg, gives her a much needed push in the right direction.

Regina King is hilarious as Stella's youngest sister, who is all in favor of Stella's newfound heartthrob. She could care less about the age difference. She just wants to know all the details.

Both Bassett and Goldberg deliver wonderful performances and, as is often the case with these two actresses, their acting in "Stella" actually outshines the material they had to work with.

The film is directed by first-time feature film director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, who's known for his work in television. He fills the screen with brilliant colors, making Jamaica look like a Disney theme park.

The novel "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is mostly the internalized musings of a woman who has given up on love. By adding the best friend's character, played by Goldberg, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ron Bass ("Rain Man") makes the story much more accessible to moviegoers.

Women of all ages and races will undoubtedly cheer Stella on as she wrestles with the dilemma of falling in love with a younger man, and by doing so, gets her groove back ... baby. "Stella" is much lighter in tone than "Waiting To Exhale" and men who are dragged to this flick won't suffer through all the man-bashing displayed in that earlier film.

I expect that women will be lining up in droves to see this light summer confection.

"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is rated R with a running time of 124 minutes.

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