Bassett romance with young stud too obvious and formulaic
Why is it in women-sitting-around-talking movies, one of them always has to die?
In "Terms of Endearment," Debra Winger passes away. In Steel Magnolias," Julia Roberts croaks. In "Boys on the Side," it was Mary-Louise Parker. And there are at least a half dozen more. Can't these scriptwriters think of some new way to bring on the requisite tears?
I'm generally a sucker for romance, and I came close to liking "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," the latest adaptation from one of Terry McMillan's bonding women books ("Waiting to Exhale"), this one about a 40-year-old high-stakes broker (Angela Bassett) who finds herself revitalized in the arms of a Jamaican hunk half her age.
Bassett was great, of course. Whoopi Goldberg (as the terminal best friend) was her perfect comic foil. Film freshman Taye Diggs, playing the very appealing young stud Winston Shakespeare, was charming, sincere and dang handsome.
But every time I was just starting to enjoy myself, along came another compartmentalized, episodic and obvious plot development. There is not a single scene, action or line of dialogue in this movie that isn't anticipated at least one scene in advance.
Stella (Bassett) is a stressed-out broker living a very comfortable life, but she's lonely and in dire need of a vacation (and a man, according to her friends), so she takes off for a week in Jamaica, where she's charmed out of her wrap-around skirt by a 20-year-old native who falls in love with her at first sight.
The flirting between Bassett and Diggs is deliciously juicy and the soon-to-follow love scenes are pretty hot, even if they are generic music video sequences complete with a breeze blowing through gauzy drapes.
But once they have The Talk about The Age Issue, the rest of the script is nothing more than a row of dominos that fall on cue.
Stella returns home to San Francisco determined that her fling is over. But when she is laid off from her job, she finds herself thinking of Winston and on a whim flies back to Jamaica.
Romance ensues, illustrated by lots of postcard cinematography and an adult contemporary soundtrack. She meets his folks and gets a serious talking-to from his mother, who is only one year her senior, etc., etc.
Stella rushes back to the U.S. when best bud Whoopi is admitted to the hospital. Whoopi then promptly dies so Winston can unexpectedly show up at the funeral for his big I'm Here For You moment.
He moves in with Stella -- who takes major heat from friends, who exist entirely for conflict and comic relief -- and has the Video Game Bonding Scene with her son.
She talks about how she always wanted to be a furniture designer and, despite the fact that they're both unemployed, Winston buys her an expensive lathe, demonstrating that while he's a cute, beguiling stud, he also has a tender heart. (Winston is one of those never presumptuous, always respectful guys that women always say they're looking for, but never actually get involved with when they find them.)
Throw in an Are You Ashamed Of Me? fight to prove Stella and Winston are human and a couple more Age Issue discussions, break them up, then tack on a Rushing Back To Each Other's Arms ending and roll the credits.
I'm telling you, hand nine out of ten people walking down the street a two-sentence description of the concept for this movie, then give them a week at a word processor and you'd get this exact same script from all of them.
"Stella" has its plusses. Bassett plays Stella's conflict very well, giving in to her desires sometimes and also having moments of enormous doubt.
Directed by Kevin Sullivan, it is beautifully photographed and awfully romantic when it tries. The narrative can be very clever, as in the scene where the camera is slowly rolling over Winston's body while we listen to Stella's randy thoughts in voice over.
But in addition to this movie being wholly predicable and 30 minutes longer than necessary, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is often stale, especially when revisiting the same character issues for the third or fourth time.
With a dollop more originality and slightly less patronizing Kleenex moments, this picture might have left its mark on the chick flick genre, but as it stands, it's an also-ran.