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Wayback Wednesday: How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

Did I miss the part where she lost her groove?

Every time I’ve watched Angela Bassett in something, she’s more often than not playing an emotionally spent woman who is GOING THROUGH IT. Whether she’s fighting for her life on American Horror Story (2011 – present), fighting for her career in What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993) or fighting for her family in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), Bassett has built a reputation for playing powerful women who don’t take any shit from anybody. By the way, check out my reviews for those movies, here and here. The only time I’ve seen her play a laid-back character was in Otherhood (2019), that abysmal Netflix movie that no one remembers. Check out that review, here. So, my first time watching Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) was a delightful surprise simply because my girl Angela could finally relax and have fun for once! Yes, Stella goes through some trying times over the course of this movie, but hey, she also gets to make out with Taye Diggs in Jamaica so it kind of evens out! 

Credit: / 20th Century Fox

Based on Terry McMillan’s novel of the same name, How Stella Got Her Groove Back tells the story of Stella Payne, a hard-working stockbroker in her 40s who struggles to find time for herself and for romance amidst her hectic workload and impending divorce. When she takes a well-deserved trip to Jamaica on a whim, Stella meets the much younger Winston Shakespeare, a handsome islander who she begins a steamy romance with. Soon Stella learns what it truly means to have a balance between her professional and personal life.

I am such a sucker for a movie where friends go on vacation. Girls Trip (2017), Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)…I absolutely love to see it. And yes, I will certainly be seeing Book Club 2: The Next Chapter (2023) where they travel to Italy. By the way, check out my review for those movies, here and here. In How Stella Got Her Groove Back Bassett’s Stella gets the pleasure of travelling with her friend Delilah, played sensationally by the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg. Can we as a society work towards getting Whoopi Goldberg more starring roles in mainstream comedies? Her star power and comedic timing are so great that she’s capable of making even the unfunniest of scenes a laugh riot. Goldberg has me howling just by doing the bare minimum. Her scenes, which showcase the  plethora of friendly chemistry she shares with Bassett, are a highlight of the movie. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel a single ounce of romantic chemistry between Bassett and Taye Diggs who plays Winston. I know this was Diggs’ first movie role but jeez, you think someone who comes from the theatre world could deliver a more lively performance. Diggs just doesn’t give a compelling performance. It doesn’t go much deeper than his dreamy smile. Bassett on the other hand is great. I mean, DUH as if we didn’t already know that. She really can play anything. I often find that with these remarkable dramatic actresses like Bassett or Viola Davis who are known for playing hardcore, intense roles, there’s nothing more surprisingly enjoyable than getting to watch them play more joyous, carefree characters. They play it just as well, showcasing their considerable range and talent. And my God, lighthearted Bassett is just one big ball of magnetic charisma. I love seeing her get to have fun and am now making it my mission to see more of her light roles. 

I appreciate them travelling to Jamaica within the first 15 mins (LOL which Stella decides to do courtesy of the most effective TV commercial in the history of the known world) but I think I needed more of a setup of the groove the Stella has allegedly lost. Sure, she works hard and is single, but she still has time for the spa, gardening and talking to a guy her sister set her up with. Stella likes her job and has a good relationship with her son. She seems totally fine with her life! Except for her sister Angela. She’s a proper asshole for seemingly no reason. 

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is certainly heavy on romance, not so much on the comedy, conflict or anything else really. With the idealistic storyline and the occasionally cheesy music, sometimes the movie feels like a really expensive Hallmark movie. Or a high-class porn. NO WAIT, it also reminds me of those steamy, “not quite porn” telenovelas that would be on cable at like 3:00 a.m. Hello, there’s a pyjama party that turns into a naked dance fest! What kind of resort is this? Even the conflict that comes between Stella and Winston AKA the main conflict in the story, feels cheap and lacking lustre. The emotional beats feel halfhearted and result in a story that feels kind of uneventful. I mean, one of the wrenches that gets thrown into Stella and Winston’s relationship is that while she’s on vacation he gets a job and can’t spend as much time with her. Did Stella think Winston was going to move back to America with her anyway? Also, this is what vacation romances are for! You hookup a couple of times for NSA fun!

Based on how little of a plot there is, there is no reason why How Stella Got Her Groove Back deserved to be two hours long. Events that happen at the hour and a half point should have been happening earlier like around the 40 minute mark. Plus, there is so much jumping back between America and Jamaica that I feel like this could have been either edited better or condensed. Especially because so much of the scenes in this movie, all of which feature Stella and / or Winston, are about the two of them and their tumultuous relationship. In desperation I even skipped through some parts of the movie and I shit you not, I skipped from the two of them loving each other to fighting, to loving each other to fighting, to loving each other to fighting….you get the idea. 

Credit: / 20th Century Fox

If How Stella Got Her Groove Back doesn’t make you want to go on vacation nothing will. Though I sincerely doubt we can all be as fortunate as Stella when it comes to entering sexy relationships with men the likes of Taye Diggs. No matter how badly we all could use a steamy getaway filled with sunset kisses, moonlit dancing and fruity drinks. No, seriously, I’m sure we all could use that about right now. I’m not alone on this, right? 

Have you seen How Stella Got Her Groove Back?

Let me know in the comments or on social media! 


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