How Stella Got Her Groove Back Book vs Movie Review

written by Laura J.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillian (1996)

How Stella Got Her Groove Back directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (1998)

Book Review

I read this book a few years ago and was reminded of it when I did my post for The Perfect Find book vs movie. Both involve a woman who falls for a guy who is 20 years younger. The two books have a number of similarities, but The Perfect Find is by far the better book of the two.

With Stella I wasn’t invested in the relationship and I didn’t see what the pull was for either of them. It is also written in more of a conversational tone, which works well enough for the audiobook since it is like she is just a friend telling you about this part of her life. Overall, I was surprised this book is as well-known as it is. I mean, I know there is the McMillian drama that has added to the book’s notoriety (which I will get into in the end of this), but that aside, when the book came out it was popular and then they even made the adaptation. I know Waiting to Exhale was written first and had been adapted prior, so maybe it was the popularity of that book and movie that made Stella so popular. I also think there is something about the title that is very catching and unique.

Movie Review

Now, I know this isn’t the most important thing when it comes to movies, but I just gotta say how hot both Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs are in this movie. Like, wow! The wardrobe for Bassett was amazing too. She was like 38 or 39 while filming, but she looks so much younger! Reminded me of Halle Berry in Their Eyes Were Watching God where she plays a 40 year old woman and she really is 40 but looks ten years younger! (Funny enough, that is another movie I have covered that has an older woman dating a younger guy.)

I also think the chemistry in this movie felt so genuine. Between Bassett and Diggs, but also between Bassett and Goldberg, and Basset and the woman who play her sisters (one of which is Regina King), and even between Basset and the kid who plays her son!

Overall, I liked this movie, but it really could have been about 30 minutes shorter. Whoopi Goldberg is in the movie which I like (Whoopi fans should check out my The Color Purple book vs movie) but in the second part of the movie her storyline goes in a direction that was unnecessary.

From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and movie!

Delilah

I’ll just get things started with the Whoopi Goldberg character who is named Delilah. She is not in the book at all! In the movie she is Stella’s best friend who goes with her to Jamaica (in the book Stella goes alone) and then halfway through the movie we find out she has cancer and she dies. I get in a sense why this was in the movie, because her death makes Stella realize how short life is and that she should do what makes her happy. Winston also shows up at the funeral, and later comforts her when she misses Delilah, showing what a good guy, he is. Nonetheless, while I liked Delilah in the first half of the movie, adding the death storyline seemed out of place and made the movie longer than needed.

Stella and Winston in Jamaica

In both, Stella meets Winston at her hotel and he is hitting on her but she is hesitant due to him obviously being so young. She gets over that to some extent though, and after seeing him a number of times they end up having sex and start to have feelings for each other.

When she arrives back home after her vacation, in book and movie she is told she is fired. She decides to go to Jamaica again and this time bring her 11-year-old son and her niece and the kids get along great with Winston. In the book, he still has work conflicts though and there are a number of times he flakes on them.

In the movie there is a scene when Winston has Stella meet his parents without any forewarning and Stella is very thrown off. Winston’s mom is only one year older than Stella and the mother says she must be desperate to be with a man so young and that she should be ashamed of herself. This wasn’t in the book.

Stella does have her sister telling her to be careful and that Winston is just after her for a green card and/or for her money but Stella doesn’t pay her any mind.

In the movie there is a part when the sister says something like, you must have your worries about this to which Stella’s is honest and says of course I do! But there also aren’t any moments of Stella expressing doubts in the book. I mean, she has worries about his age at the start but even that seems to become a nonissue pretty fast.

Winston coming to America

In the movie, Stella is at Delilah’s funeral when Winston shows up and ends up living with Stella after. In the book, while Stella is in America, she sends Winston an open-ended ticket for him to come to California and he comes to stay for three weeks.

In the movie we see more of his time with her in California and how their age gap poses an issue in multiple scenes but we also see how they clearly still have that connection. Near the end of the movie though, Winston acknowledges that this doesn’t seem to be working due to their differences in lifestyle and taste, and he says he is going to go back home to go to medical school. But then Stella shows up at the airport and says he should go to college in California and the movie ends with them kissing at the airport.

In the book, as his three weeks come to an end, Stella is feeling moody because she is having a hard time dealing with the thought of him leaving, as is he. They have a heart to heart and Winston expresses his desire to go to culinary school in California and start working in restaurants here and eventually marry Stella and it ends with that conversation and the two of them looking positively towards their future together.

Stella’s art

In both, Stella makes functional art and she goes to a friend’s art show and contributes a piece which a guy takes a liking to. He helps her in the end to get her art career up and running.

In the movie, she is laid off as in the book, but in the end, she is offered her job back only to tell them no. She wants to pursue her art, but in the movie, it isn’t fully resolved as it was in the book.

Final thoughts

Before moving on to book vs movie, I just wanted to talk about some different things from the book and movie. For example, the movie has the part when a young bartender is hitting on Winston and she thinks Stella is his mom. Rather than get annoyed and bothered, they lean into it and make a joke about her being his mom but then they kiss.

I also thought the scene at the pajama disco was cute and fun. Throughout all of the first hour basically, I found myself with a permanent smile on my face because it was just so fun.

Regina King plays the funny sister here and she was amazing. Her hair style was weird, but her acting and her character were very entertaining.

Terry McMillian

I had to talk about the real story here because McMillian wrote this book about her own experience in Jamaica where she met a local named Jonathan Plummer. As happens in the book, they had a 20-year age gap but McMillian fell hard for him and he came to the US and they were married. In the book, her sisters are telling her to watch out because he probably just wants a green card marriage and/or wants her money but Stella disregard them. Well, in 2005 Plummer told McMillian that he was gay and wanted a divorce.

I don’t know if you could say he was being deceiving, because this was the 90’s  and in a country where you weren’t allowed to be gay and so he may have felt those feelings but tried to suppress them. So part of me wants to think he really did fall for McMillian, but it also seems like he had some alterior motives and perhaps was wanting a way to live in the US.

When this was publicized though, people came at McMillian calling her homophobic which wasn’t true. She felt betrayed and embarrassed about the whole thing, but it wasn’t because she was homophobic. She ended up suing him for emotional damages but ended up withdrawing the lawsuit because she didn’t want to drag out the drama and be holding onto this negativity. In an interview from like 2010 they said they are on better terms now and while they aren’t “best friends”, they are friends.

Plummer himself published a book that, like Stella, seems to be based to some degree on his relationship with McMillian called Balancing Act.

Book vs Movie

Getting back to seeing this as a work of fiction, when it comes to which one, I think wins I am going to say the movie! I enjoyed it much more and even though it had some added scenes that were unnecessary I loved the cast and thought the movie did a better job getting into the details of their romance. I could see why they were drawn to each other, as well as seeing the issues this would cause in their lives and social circles. The book always seemed more surface level and any issues that came up quickly went away.