American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" tries its best to turn a paperback romance into a relationship worth making a movie about, but fails. At the end of the movie we're prepared to concede that Stella may indeed have her groove back, but at a considerable price, and maybe not for long. If a romantic couple feels wrong to the audience, no plot gymnastics can convince us.
The movie stars Angela Bassett as Stella, a divorced mom and high-powered San Francisco trader who, as the movie opens, is promising a client a guaranteed 65 percent return on some Russian bonds. Her personal life is lonely, and her sisters advise her to find a man. I'm thinking--if those returns are real, the man will find you.
Stella's best friend, Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg), lays down the law: It's time for them to fly to Jamaica for some R&R. Her first morning, Stella finds herself at breakfast with an improbably handsome young man (Taye Diggs) who introduces himself as Winston Shakespeare. Delilah has lined up a couple of football players for them to party with, but Winston keeps coming around, and being sincere, and catching at corners of her heart, until Stella realizes she has a problem on her hands: There is the danger they will actually fall in love.
But she is 40 and he is 20 and, as Winston's mother says when Stella eventually meets her, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" That's about all Winston's mother says. She's trundled onstage for her obligatory line, and disappears, along with Winston's father, who doesn't even get a line. At least we got to see what a nice home Winston grew up in. The movie doesn't really care about the parents; it just needs them for a plot point. In a different kind of movie, the parents would have been dealt with, not just put on exhibit.