[Screen It]


(1998) (Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild None Moderate *Minor *Minor
Mild None None None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Heavy Minor Minor Mild *Minor

Romantic Drama: A forty-year-old woman must decide whether to continue in a relationship with a man half her age.
Stella Payne (ANGELA BASSETT) is a forty-year-old, highly successful stock broker and single mom to son, Quincy (MICHAEL J. PAGAN). All work and no play, however, has dug quite a deep rut for her, so upon the insistence of her best friend, Delilah (WHOOPI GOLDBERG), the two head off for a Jamaican paradise vacation.

There, Stella finally relaxes and then meets Winston Shakespeare (TAYE DIGGS), a handsome and charming young man who's only half her age. Despite her better judgement, Stella has a fling with him, and both begin to feel there's something more there than a casual affair. After he informs her that he's just taken a job that will take up most of his time, however, she believes he's written her off and returns to San Francisco.

There, her sister and ambulance driver Vanessa (REGINA KING) wants to know all of the juicy details about Winston, while her other, pregnant sister, Angela (SUZZANNE DOUGLAS), thinks Stella has been raiding the school grounds for new boyfriends.

A series of events then sends Stella back to Jamaica where her relationship with Winston intensifies. Her doubts about their future together, however, often come close to putting an end to it. Even so, he eventually moves in with her and the two try to work out their differences in hopes that they'll make something of their relationship.

If they're fans of someone in the cast or of the novel by Terry McMillan (who also wrote "Waiting To Exhale"), they just might.
For language and some sexuality.
  • ANGELA BASSETT plays a highly successful, forty-year-old woman who has a fling with a twenty-year-old man. Despite her often treating him like a child, she has him move in with her in the presence of her underage son.
  • TAYE DIGGS plays a twenty-year-old man who seduces Stella and then romantically pursues her throughout the movie.
  • WHOOPI GOLDBERG plays Stella's best friend who encourages her to let her hair down and have a good time in Jamaica.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Hoping to capitalize on the unexpected success of 1995's "Waiting To Exhale," this follow-up story from novelist Terry McMillan plays out like a melodramatic roller coaster. With its repetitious ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" will have some in the audience whooping in delight over the proceedings, but by the time you leave the theater you might just realize that there's not much substance behind the "ride" and that you've seen too much of the structure holding up its track.

    Putting something of a female (and slightly older) spin on the standard Lolita story -- the "sexpot" this time is a just out of his teens young man -- and reportedly based on McMillan's personal experiences in similar matters, the picture features a winning cast and some funny moments, but suffers from a poorly structured, paced and opportunistic plot that nearly derails this romantic roller coaster.

    Much like many real relationships, the fun and sparks are in the introductory dance of the two would-be lovers, and this film sizzles in its early moments when Stella and Winston first meet and flirt. From a goofy but fun fantasy sequence where Stella imagines/hallucinates herself in a "Come to Jamaica" commercial that serves as the film's catalyst, to the moment where Winston unknowingly breaks "the mood" with an application of ice to Stella's back, the film's first half is joyous fluff.

    Unfortunately, as often happens in matters of the heart, that spark is extinguished and replaced by squabbles, arguments and more than enough bits of dialogue from Stella claiming that she's old enough to be Winston's mother, etc..., all of which serve to ruin our mood and enjoyment of watching the film.

    One of the old "rules" that I remember from my screenwriting days is to make your plot resemble the track of a roller coaster where things are good (the high hills) and then suddenly replaced by conflict and trouble (the low valleys), and then alternate these to create dramatic tension. Well, first time director Kevin Rodney Sullivan and screenwriters McMillan and Ronald Bass ("My Best Friend's Wedding," "Waiting to Exhale") have taken that idea and gone to the extreme.

    Utilizing more than enough of that up and down track to make nearly everyone nauseous from its topsy-turvy construction, the filmmakers have delivered a picture that's as often frustrating as it is entertaining. One moment the two characters are in love, and the next they're about to break up. Wait five minutes and then they're back together again. It's nearly as if the filmmakers were playing the flower pedal picking game of "She loves me, she loves me not" and having the characters react accordingly.

    While the plot resembles a temporally condensed version of many real life relationships, all of those many hills and valleys in a two-hour film come off as too unrealistic and the puppeteer's strings (or roller coaster track to keep that symbolism running) are way too obvious in their efforts to manipulate the audience.

    That also applies to other key and non romantic plot elements the film has to offer. Having Stella return to her job only to be fired and then return to Jamaica seems awfully convenient and more than a little unrealistic despite the screenwriters' attempts to justify such proceedings. Likewise, the illness and death of a key character also seems quite contrived and conspicuous in its attempt to bring out the tissues throughout the audience (for the most part it fails), and doesn't even serve as a catalytic purpose like it should have.

    Perhaps everything makes more sense and is more symbiotic in the original novel, but here such moments seem too random and do nothing more than kill the film's momentum, giving it something of a "herky-jerky" feel. To make matters worse, the film is way too long for this genre (around two hours), and can't ever seem to figure out how it's going to resolve its low conflict "suspense," although it finally does sputter to a predictable finale.

    Fortunately, the film features enough charming and likeable characters, along with enough humor, to make it easy to watch. Angela Bassett ("What's Love Got To Do With It," "Waiting To Exhale") does a decent job as the title character, but is unfortunately saddled with such wishy- washy behavior (courtesy of the script) that one's never quite sure what's motivating her. She does shine, however, in the film's early moments when she finally lets down her hair and has some fun.

    Newcomer Taye Diggs, who makes his feature film debut with this picture, is good, and his big and radiant smile and overall sex appeal should make him destined for further romantic roles on the big screen. While he's quite charming and had the women at our screening swooning over his looks, the filmmakers have mostly left him high and dry regarding any real character development.

    Whoopi Goldberg ("Ghost," "Sister Act") is present mainly as comic relief, and she easily gets the best bits in the film. Whether throwing out "zingers" in response to Stella's stuffy demeanor or trying to keep up with her physically fit friend, Goldberg delivers some very funny moments. The rest come from Regina King as Stella's sassy sister, and Richard Lawson and Barry "Shabaka" Henley as two over the hill and out of shape Lotharios who mistakenly, but humorously, think they're hot stuff.

    Although the film seemed to please its target audience (those who loved "Waiting To Exhale"), it's unfortunate that the film's plot and tempo are scattered all over the place. Had as much effort been used in developing a tighter and more believable story -- as was done in showing off lots of finely tuned bodies in minimal clothing -- the film would have fared much better.

    Enjoyable, but certainly not great, the film will highly entertain some moviegoers, while leaving the rest wishing for something more substantial. We fall into the latter group and thus give "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" a 5 out of 10.

    Profanity, nudity and sexual/sensual moments highlight what most will probably find objectionable with this film. Profanity is heavy with 6 "f" words and as assortment of others, while several sexual encounters are partially seen or implied, but most are more sensual than downright explicit.

    Some brief sexually related talk also occurs and several instances of nudity (bare breasts, Winston's bare butt) are present, along with plenty of cleavage and revealing swimsuits. Beyond some bad attitudes and the overall theme of a woman dating a man who's young enough to be her son, that's about it for major objectionable content. Nonetheless, you may want to take a closer look at what we've listed in case you or someone else in your home wish to see this film.

  • Stella imagines seeing herself in a commercial set on the beach where she has a drink.
  • People have drinks on a Jamaican beach.
  • Some people at a party drink.
  • Winston and Stella have champagne and later wine in another scene.
  • None.
  • Some may see Stella as having some of both for having an affair and then entering into a relationship with a man half her age. In addition, she often treats Winston poorly despite his near unconditional love for her (treating him like a child, telling him "the rules," etc...). Later, she has him move in with her (despite having an impressionable child at home).
  • Stella's sister, Angela, has both for constantly badgering and belittling Stella about her romantic life, and toward Winston as well.
  • Winston brings Stella to meet his parents without telling her or preparing her for such a meeting.
  • Some may see some of the men who continually try to "hit on" Stella as having some of both.
  • Winston's mother is rude to Stella (for being a woman her age and dating her son).
  • Some may find a character's sickness (cancer) and then death as a bit unsettling or uncomfortable.
  • Briefly used in a violent video game that Winston and Quincy play.
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Chickensh*t," what sounded like "Mo-fo" (short for "m*therf*cker"), "Sloppy seconds" and "Wet dream" (sexual), "Slut," "Shut up," "Pissed," "Old broad" (what Stella calls herself), "Bitch" (how Delilah refers to her former maid), and "Ho'" (whore).
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Due to crowd noise where we couldn't hear bits of dialogue, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 6 "f" words (2 used sexually), 6 "s" words, 9 hells, 5 asses, 2 damns, and 1 use each of "Lord" and "Oh Lord" as exclamations.
  • Due to crowd noise where we couldn't hear bits of dialogue, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • Stella comments on Angela marrying the second guy she slept with.
  • Stella wears various outfits (or swimsuits) throughout the movie that show a little or a moderate amount of cleavage. Delilah also shows some cleavage.
  • Delilah tells Stella that "...you'll be picking up my sloppy seconds" while in Jamaica.
  • Delilah puts a scarf down into the front of a mannequin's underwear and tells another woman to get her some more "penis material."
  • Stella comments that she didn't travel to Jamaica to "become a slut," while Delilah responds, "I did."
  • In several scenes we see women in various swimsuits, some of which are high (and low) cut showing some skin.
  • After a guy nibbles at Delilah's toes and startles her, she tells him that if he gives her a heart attack, "you don't get none."
  • We see scantily clad people at a pajama party (skimpy bathing suits or bedroom attire), and after the command is given to disrobe, we see many bare-breasted women dancing on the dance floor. Moments later, one of the men disrobes down to a speedo bathing suit (played for laughs with him being out of shape).
  • Delilah comments to Stella about Winston, "If he looks that good with his clothes on..." Stella then asks, "What would I do with a twenty-year-old?" and Delilah responds, "F*ck him!"
  • While in a pool, Stella asks Winston if he wants to be "intimate" with her, and later we see them kissing in a sensual scene (nuzzling necks, etc...) and we briefly see him on top of her in a slowly edited montage (featuring mostly head and shoulder glimpses of them having sex). Later, Delilah asks Stella, "Was it good?" and Stella responds, "Better than that."
  • Angela tells Stella, "I hope you used a condom because those people have a history of AIDS." In response, Stella tells her sister, "You could spoil a wet dream."
  • After Stella complains that she's found Cocoa Puffs in her bed (from Winston), Delilah slyly comments, "Oh girl, young and innovative!"
  • We see Winston and Stella together in her bed after he moves in with her, implying that they're having sex.
  • We see Winston's bare butt while he's in the shower. Stella (still clothed) then joins hin in the shower where they sensually kiss and caress each other's bodies. Moments later we see the end of them having sex on a bed (with her on his lap facing him -- but we only see them from the shoulders up) as she climaxes.
  • Two men Delilah has met smoke cigars.
  • Some people at a party smoke.
  • Winston's father holds an unlit cigar.
  • Although little is made of it, Stella and her husband are divorced and their son lives with her (but does go and visit his dad).
  • Whether the age difference between Stella and Winston (as well as his young age overall) is a big issue or not.
  • People who put their careers ahead of their personal lives.
  • Winston and Quincy briefly play a video game that shows animated characters being shot and killed.

  • Reviewed August 11, 1998

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