Published August 1, 1998
How Stella Got Her Groove Back, directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan from a screenplay by Terry McMillan and Ron Bass from Miss McMillan’s novel, is a middle-aged woman’s wish-fulfilment fantasy and, unfortunately, little else. I thought at least it might be amusingly bad, but it doesn’t even reach as high as that. Angela Bassett stars as Stella Payne, 40-year-old bond trader and divorced mother of an 11-year old son from San Francisco who goes on vacation to Jamaica and has a passionate affair with a 20 year old Jamaican beach boy, Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs). They fall in love and, after some vicissitudes, Winston returns with Stella to San Francisco, eventually asking her to marry him in spite of opposition and ridicule among her family and friends.
There is one scene in which Stella and Winston are sitting in a movie (called My Last Nerve) at which Winston and all the young people around him are laughing uproariously. Stella, sitting in the midst of them, obviously wonders that they are laughing at. I felt a bit like that watching this movie in the company of a great many people who could hardly contain their mirth, hooting so loudly at times that the dialogue became inaudible. Here is one example of what they were laughing at. Stella arrives in Jamaica in the company of best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg), a fun-loving, life-affirming sexual adventuress who is urging her to find herself a toy-boy. “I didn’t come all the way down here to turn into a slut,” says Stella.
“I did,” says Delilah. And the cinema positively rocked with laughter. Later, after Stella has met Winston and perceived his interest in her, she asks Delilah, “What would I do with a 20 year old boy?”
“F*** him!” says the irrepressible Delilah, and the place exploded once more. Also much appreciated by the largely black audience were images of fat people in a state of near undress acting as if they thought they were attractive. If this is your idea of comedy, by all means see this movie. Otherwise heed the warning that Stella ignores after sitting through My Last Nerve with her all-too boyish boyfriend: if you don’t find the same things funny, it probably isn’t a match.