Twenty years since Stella got her groove back

Observer writer

Sunday, July 29, 2018

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NEXT month will mark 20 years since the romantic-comedy How Stella Got Her Groove Back premiered in Jamaica. Adapted from the 1996 novel written by Terry McMillan, the plot plays on her love affair with Jamaican Jonathan Plummer, whom she met while vacationing on the island.

Lead star Angela Bassett plays a 40-year-old divorcee named Stella, a San Francisco stockbroker, who heads to Jamaica for vacation with her best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg). The unexpected happens when Stella meets eye candy Winston Shakespeare (played by Taye Diggs in his film debut), a Jamaican local less than half her age.

The film, directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan, explores the development of their relationship notwithstanding geographic, cultural and age differences.

Film producer Natalie Thompson was in charge of the Jamaican production, which was primarily shot at Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Hanover.

“I hadn't read the novel before but I did read it before Terry came to Jamaica to shoot,” Thompson told the Jamaica Observer. “I remember we shot in 1997; as a matter of fact we wrapped on December 17, a day before general elections, so it was pretty tense at that time. We didn't make it known that we were shooting; it wasn't public. We also shot some scenes at Laughing Waters and a little in Hanover,” she continued.

Thompson, who has worked on several films including Knight and Day, Cool Runnings, Third World Cop and Instinct, said How Stella Got Her Groove Back placed much interest on Jamaica. Round Hill's managing director Josef Forstmayr agrees.

“Once the movie came out it was just wonderful to showcase the best of Round Hill and Jamaica. the movie was a big hit here and it worked for us,” Forstmayr told the Jamaica Observer. “We had Cottage Hill, which at the time was owned by Merlene Ottey who bought it years before. After the movie came out it became known as 'the cottage where Stella got her groove back'.”

According to Forstmayr, the cast also grew fond of the getaway resort.

“Taye Diggs ended up marrying Idina Menzel four years later at Round Hill; he had fallen in love with the place,” he said. “Angela and Whoopi also visited after that, so they all loved it.”

The novel was a best-seller, with more than two million copies sold before the film's release. The Box Office MOJO notes the movie grossed US$37,672,941 worldwide. How Stella Got Her Groove Back also featured appearances by Lisa Hanna featured Denise Hunt. The soundtrack had Jamaican acts like Diana King, Beenie Man, Shaggy and Maxi Priest.

Melanie Graham, marketing manager at Palace Amusement Company, recalled the movie's reception when it debuted at Carib 5.

“I don't think there was any big splash in terms of a movie premiere, but I recall it did well and it was received well,” Graham said. “Plus it was one of its kind at that time; it was shot in Jamaica, it showed how beautiful Jamaica is and showcased a nice side of the island. A lot of interest was in it especially from women, they gravitated towards the film. It had a nice storyline and some attractive people in it as well. Plus, we like seeing our people up on the big screen,” she ended.

Up to 2002, the Palace Amusement website listed How Stella Got Her Grrove Back as the eighth top grossing film in Jamaica.

McMillan and Plummer were married for six years before the latter confessed he was gay, resulting in a nasty divorce. Waiting to Exhale (1995) and Disappearing Acts (2000) are other films which were adapted from McMillan's novels.

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