How Stella Got Her Groove Back
The Jamaica Tourist Board can take the rest of the summer off. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, a flossy, smooth-jazz adaptation of Terry McMillan’s best-selling sex-and-fashion follow-up to Waiting to Exhale, claims to star Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg. But the real star of this foamy Second Chance at Love-type romantic fantasy, in which a beautiful, sexy, wealthy, divorced, yada-yada-yada vacationing 40-year-old single California mom (Bassett) meets a handsome, sexy, wealthy, mature, yada-yada-yada 20-year-old Jamaican hunk (feature-film first timer Taye Diggs, whose calling card is his impeccable smile) and, dear reader, the earth moves–well, the real star here is the island. There are no overbuilt hotels, no underdeveloped economic infrastructure, no crowds of sweaty tourists, no poverty on this lush patch of Caribbean paradise: You can practically smell the hibiscus and taste the rum in the honey glaze with which first-time feature director Kevin Rodney Sullivan coats the production. Cue the “Coom tuh Jah-mayyy-kah” jingle.
What, no Tim Meadows doing Saturday Night Live’s Leon, the Ladies’ Man? I don’t mind that Stella is a whole lotta dramatic jerk pork. (“Boy, I’m old enough to be your mama,” the well-toned older woman tells her young buck, with no great concern for originality.) I heartily support women who want it all, studly men who can give it to them, and sisterly audiences made happy by romantic excess. But at least get your players in a groove. Bassett’s natural dramatic fierceness, so powerful when incited to action, is at odds with the knee-weakening sexual surrender required by the story. As the wisecracking, flamboyant best friend who accompanies Stella on her holiday, Goldberg provides some choice ham–but how these two women cemented their relationship is a mystery, given Goldberg’s uncorkable Auntie Mame routine. Stella’s two sisters might have provided some pleasurable friction in a plot strikingly devoid of real conflict; as the baby of the family who regularly cadges money off big sister Stella, funny, lively Regina King has it in her to steal the picture.
But sibling rivalries ultimately dissolve as Stella and her foxy lover celebrate their unorthodox rightness for each other, and a treacly soundtrack relies way too heavily on shoop-shoopishness to signify good lovin’. Take away the bloom of island enchantment, and this Stella gets stuck in a rut.