This film more than any other has always convinced me that Angela Bassett should have been cast as ‘Storm’ in the X-Men films. Her athletic body, intense look, and the strong confidence she exudes makes it seem like she was born to play the character. However, despite being reminded of ‘Storm,’ Bassett unfortunately couldn’t save How Stella Got Her Groove Back from turning into a TV movie-of-the-week chick flick. The movie isn’t horrible and I admire the risks it takes, but it self-destructs under a stream of cliches and poor pacing.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back follows a single mom (Bassett) who spends too much time focused on her very successful career. Her sisters have tried setting her up with various men without any success. One night she sees a TV commercial for Jamaica and decides to take her son’s advice and go on a vacation. She calls up her best friend (Whoopi Goldberg) and together they fly off to Jamaica for some fun and sun. There, Bassett meets a young Jamaican man (Taye Diggs) (20 years her junior, in fact) and they strike up a romantic relationship. The rest of the film explores the complications that arise from a woman dating a man who is young enough to be her son.

In recent years, Hollywood has begun successfully catering to the African-American market with films by Tyler Perry and films produced by Oprah Winfrey. Similar to the Christian market, Hollywood has realized there is a huge, widely untapped demographic that is woefully underserved by the film industry. A number of these black-themed films stand on their own and appeal to a wide demographic (i.e. last year’s Precious and much of Spike Lee’s filmography). However, many of them suffer from mediocre scripts and acting, which results in movies that feel like made-for-television melodramas (i.e. Tyler Perry is a shining example). How Stella Got Her Groove Back sort of falls in the middle. Its backed up by great source material in Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel of the same name. It also features a strong cast in Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, and in his film debut, Taye Diggs. The problem seems to lie in the use of a television director who instead of making a film that looks like a film, he resorts to television techniques that results in something that could have and should have played on the Lifetime network.

As I mentioned, the actors competently deliver their performances. To be sure, none of them provide Oscar-winning work (which they are fully capable of – Bassett was nominated for What’s Love Got To Do With It and Whoopi won for Ghost), but they do the best they can with the material they have. I also appreciated a film that features an empowered and successful woman who doesn’t depend on a man or throw everything she has for him. For once, the man depends on the woman and that was refreshing to see. Whoopi as the best friend is great and I wish I saw more of her (not to mention how much I miss seeing her in movies). Of course, the actor everyone talks about the most when this movie comes up in any conversation is Taye Diggs. This film put him on the map and its not because of his acting abilities (he pretty much spends most of the film either shirtless or naked).

I have not read the novel this film is based from, but don’t imagine it being too different from the movie considering that Terry McMillan contributed to the screenplay as well. I like the themes the film explores and it does a good job showing all the issues that can arise from a relationship between two people who are many years apart. The problem occurs in the episodic manner the movie explores its themes. I can’t really put it in a better way than to simply describe it as feeling like a TV movie. The themes offer a huge potential to present a film thats unconventional when compared to other romantic dramas. However, I feel that the studio got scared off from alienating its audience and forced the filmmakers to work with a very conventional formula.

The television aspect of How Stella Got Her Groove Back is exacerbated by the look of the movie. I don’t know what this movie’s budget was, but there are scenes that feel so fake and manufactured while others come off like soft core porn (LOTS of obvious usage of filters). This hurts whatever positive qualities the film has. I also felt like the filmmakers lacked enough confidence in either themselves or in the material to focus on the story rather than provide us with essentially a travelogue of Jamaica in the film’s first half. I found myself paying more attention to the beautiful landscapes and imagery than on what the characters were doing and saying. This should obviously not be the case.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is an uneven film that ends up wasting its actors on a mediocre script that could have had huge potential. For those looking for some light fare and a chance to stare at Taye Diggs for 2 hours, then this film is for you. In the hands of a better filmmaker, this could have been a very good movie, but instead it becomes a bargain bin movie that you forget the instant you turn off the TV.

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