How Stella Got Her Groove Back

USA 1998

Reviewed by Nina Caplan


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Stella is a stockbroker and single mother who jogs daily and looks far younger than her 40 years. The only thing she is bad at is having a good time. However, when she takes a holiday with her best friend Delilah in Jamaica she soon starts a romance with Winston Shakespeare, a Jamaican half her age. The romance ends badly but unknown to Stella, Delilah gives Winston her phone number. When she loses her job and Winston phones, she agrees to go back to see him, despite the disapproval of her sister Angela.

Winston wins over Stella's son Quincy, but Winston's own parents disapprove of his relationship with Stella. Meanwhile, in New York Delilah goes into hospital with cancer, an illness she had hidden from Stella. When it worsens, the doctor calls Stella who flies back to be with her friend when she dies. Winston appears at the funeral to offer support and moves in with Stella and Quincy. Most of Stella's friends and family overcome their disapproval, although Angela still disdains Winston. The age difference becomes a problem between them: their tastes are different and the fact that Winston is jobless, penniless and undecided about his future aggravates their difficulties. Nevertheless, he asks Stella to marry him; when she dithers, he decides to return to Jamaica and resume his interrupted medical studies. Stella lets him go, but follows him to the airport and agrees to the marriage.


A love story between a 40-year-old woman and a boy half her age, How Stella Got Her Groove Back makes a valiant effort to be contentious without actually annoying anyone. The film tries to examine the antiquated prejudices still lurking beneath the glossy new-age surface of the US in the 90s, but it backtracks immediately by casting youthful-looking Angela Bassett in the title role. Her paramour, the gloriously named Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs) - calm, mature, self-directed and monogamous - hardly behaves much like your average 20-year-old man either.

Other reasons make it hard to take the film's central premise seriously. First-time director Kevin Rodney Sullivan fumbles the key love scenes in Jamaica where the couple meet, making them stylistically reminiscent of the travel-advertisement type of 80s pop video (think of Duran Duran's 'Rio'). The copulating couple even groan in time to the soundtrack, while coy pans to the surrounding mountains provide more viewing interest than the couple on the bed.

The film also has a bad case of tunnel vision, homing in on its older woman-younger man problem at the expense of other issues. Why, for example, does Stella assume that a holiday romance would make her a slut? The film could have used her assumptions to examine different attitudes to sex between the generations but it doesn't. Winston accepts that his penury is a problem because a 'real man' would take financial responsibility for 'his woman'.

The incipient rivalry between Stella's 11-year-old son Quincy and Winston is also brushed over. Quincy comments on Mom's and Winston's ages once to his cousin, is won over and then pipes down - apart from once in a man-to-man talk where he warns Winston not to hurt his mother. The scene leaves the spectator wondering why an age gap is worth making a film about when even an 11-year-old seems ready, in emotional terms, to apply for a pension.

That the film skips along is thanks largely to Stella's best friend Delilah. In this, her trademark role - spunky black woman with the heart of gold - Whoopi Goldberg provides a colourful contrast to Bassett's pastel sartorial and dramatic style. Unfortunately Goldberg's character is also used to ram home the message that if you look like a film star, the world is your five-star hotel suite. If not, you face either neglect or humiliation. Winston even upstages Delilah's funeral by arriving half way through for an impassioned reconciliation with the grief-stricken Stella.

This is one of the film's few emotional outbursts. "Don't go there," various characters say when others bring up personal, hurtful or humiliating topics, as if emotions comprised an actual landscape with pockets of forbidden territory. All very well as topography for touchy-feely dialogue, but a somewhat timid approach given that the film revolves around an uneven relationship and a hard-edged family duality - Stella's sister Angela embodies the self-righteous disapproval of the outside world, while younger sister Vanessa is the money-conscious, prurient element. So, despite its glorious Jamaican setting, How Stella Got Her Groove Back doesn't travel as far as it should in its exploration of putative taboos and relationship problems. Stella's groove, like the film itself, doesn't run deep.


Deborah Schindler
Terry McMillan
Ron Bass
Based on the novel by
Terry McMillan
Director of Photography
Jeffrey Jur
George Bowers
Production Designer
Chester Kaczenski
Michel Colombier
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Production Company
Twentieth Century Fox presents a Deborah Schindler production
Executive Producers
Terry McMillan
Ron Bass
Jennifer Ogden
Production Co-ordinators
Laura Stuart
Montez Monroe
Unit Production Managers
Dwight Williams
Jennifer Ogden
Natalie Thompson
Location Managers
Antoinette Levine
Peter I. Packer
Post-production Supervisor
P. Todd Coe
Assistant Directors
Steve Danton
Donald L. Sparks
Seth Edelstein
Angela Barnes
John Riley
Ian A. Williams
Script Supervisors
Renata Schneuer-Barnett
Pamela Alch
Francine Maisler
Cecile Burrowes
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Camera Operators
Don Devine
Richard Lannaman
Steadicam Operators
Guy Norman Bee
Kirk R. Gardner
Wescam Operator
David Norris
Special Effects
Ultimate Effects
John Hartigan
Richard Buckler
Paul Sokol
George Paine
Art Director
Marc Dabe
Set Designers
Christopher S. Nushawg
Eric Orbom
Set Decorator
Judi Giovanni
Stella's Vessels and Furniture
Frank E. Cummings III
Storyboard Illustrator
Chris Buchinsky
Costume Designer
Ruth E. Carter
Wardrobe Supervisor
Karen M. Davis

Department Head:
Judy Murdock
Joseph Regina
Jene Fielder
Co-department Heads:
Julia L. Walker
Sterfon Demings
Jamaica, Additional Artist:
Jacqueline Gareave
Main Titles
Scarlet Letters
End Titles/Opticals
Pacific Title/Mirage
Score Lyrics
Brenda Russell
Toots Thielemans
Dann Huff
Fretless Bass:
John Patitucci
Steel Drums:
Andy Narell
Michael Fisher
Synth Programmer:
Eric Persing
Concert Master
Ralph Morrison
Choir Master
Edie Lehmann Boddicker
Featured Score Vocalist
Oleta Adams
Jeffrey Schindler
Music Editors
Chris McGeary
Tom Kramer
Music Recordist/Mixer
Mick Guzauski
Additional Recording
Gil Morales
"Free Again" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, Caron Wheeler, Beresford Romeo, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Soul II Soul featuring Caron Wheeler & Jazzie B; "Shotgun" by Autry De Walt, performed by Jr Walker & The Allstars; "Put It On", "Could You Be Loved" by Bob Marley, performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers; "Ain't That a Groove" by James Brown, Nat Brown, performed by James Brown; "Rivers of Babylon" by Brent Dowe, Frank Farian, Trevor MacNaughton, George Reyam, performed by The Upbeaters; "Make My Body Hot" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, James Wright, Diana King, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Diana King; "The Art of Seduction" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, Max Elliott, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Maxi Priest; "Dance for Me" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, Kevin Ford, performed by Kevin Ford featuring Rufus Blaq; "Makes Me Sweat" by Moses Davis, Christopher Rios, Michael Hutchence, Andrew Farris, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry
Lewis, performed by Big Punisher & Beenie Man, contains elements of "Need You Tonight" by Michael Hutchence, Andrew Farris; "Beautiful" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, Mary J. Blige, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Mary J. Blige; "Fly Girl Jazz Hop" by Bosco Kante, Tracy Robinson; "Luv Me, Luv Me" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, Orville Burrell, Alexander Richbourg, R. Hammond, Norman Whitfield, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Shaggy featuring Janet; contains elements from "Impeach the President" by R. Hammond, performed by The Honey Drippers, also contains resung elements from "Ooh Boy" by NormanWhitfield; "Golden Time of Day" by Frankie Beverly, performed by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly; "Got to Give It Up" by/performed by Marvin Gaye; "Row Row Row Your Boat" (trad); "Never Say Never Again" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, James Wright, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by K-Ci & JoJo; "Escape to Jamaica" by Rupert Holmes, Marion Hall, performed by Lady Saw featuring Nadine Sutherland; "Flash Light" by George Clinton Jr, William Collins, Bernard Worrell, performed by Parliament; "Mastablasta '98" by Stevie Wonder, Wyclef Jean, Jerry Duplessis, performed by Stevie Wonder & Wyclef Jean, contains elements from "(Fallin Like) Dominoes" by H. Clayton, Mabaji, Sigidi, performed by Donald Byrd; "Let Me Have You" by/performed by Me'Shell N'degéocello, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Me'Shell N'degéocello; "Your Home Is in My Heart (Stella's Love Theme)" by James Harris III, Terry Lewis, arranged by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, performed by Boyz II Men featuring Chanté Moore
Russell Clark
Sound Mixer
Susumu Tokunow

Re-recording Mixers
Jim Bolt
Rick Hart
Christian Minkler
Additional Re-recording
Stan Kastner
Tim Gomillion
Tracy Bolt
Supervising Sound Editor
Steven D. Williams
Sound Editors
Victor Iorillo
Craig Berkey
Dialogue Editor
David Kulczycki
David Lucarelli
Charlene Richards
Andrea Horta
Lisa Levine
Ted Caplan
Alicia Stevenson
Paul Stevenson
Dawn Fintor
Carrie Cashman
Dave Betancourt
Donald Sylvester
Animal Wrangler
Angelo Rivers
Angela Bassett
Whoopi Goldberg
Regina King
Suzzanne Douglas
Taye Diggs
Winston Shakespeare
Michael J. Pagan
Richard Lawson
Barry 'Shabaka' Henley
Lee Weaver
Glynn Turman
Doctor Shakespeare
Phyllis Yvonne Stickney
Mrs Shakespeare
Lou Myers
Uncle Ollie
James Pickens Jr
Carl Lumbly
Judge Boyle
Denise Hunt
Ms Thang
Lisa Hanna
Philip Casnoff
D'Army Bailey

Art Metrano
Doctor Steinberg
Phina Oruche
Tenny Miller
kitchen worker
Andrew Palmer
buffet server
Harold Dawkins
Kenneth Buckford
Simon Street
The Upbeaters, band
Craig Blake
Winston's friend
Elisabeth Granli
girl in Jamaica commercial

Steve Danton
man in commercial
Elly McGuire
Stella's friend
Selma McPherson
Fern Ward
friends at party
20th Century Fox (UK)
11,204 feet
124 minutes 30 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour/Prints by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011