Film: Half-baked in the sun

The Big Pictures: HIDEOUS KINKY (15) DIRECTOR: GILLIES MACKINNON STARRING: KATE WINSLET, SAiD TAGHMAOUI, BELLA RIZA 99 MINUTES HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK (15) DIRECTOR:KEVIN RODNEY SULLIVAN STARRING: ANGELA BASSETT, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, REGINA KING 124 MINUTES

The Latin poet Horace famously remarked that people who go abroad change only their scenery, not their souls. Two films this week focus upon women who, defying the Horatian dictum, seek out exotic climes in search of self-realisation; one goes to Morocco, the other to Jamaica. To what extent their journeys rate as spiritual successes is unclear, though the tourist boards of the countries they visit will find that of less interest than the lengthy advert each film gives them.

Adapted from Esther Freud's novel, Hideous Kinky recounts the travels, not to say the travails, of Julia (Kate Winslet), a hippie chick who has come to Marrakesh with her two small daughters. She has left behind a failed relationship in London, and donned backpack and sandals in her quest for enlightenment - it's 1972, a date still close enough to the Sixties for such a quest to seem, if not advisable, then at least forgivable. The family settles into picturesque poverty above a courtyard, mucking in with the local prostitutes, sweating lightly beneath mosquito nets and waiting for Julia's ex to wire them cash. In the meantime, Julia scrapes by, making rag dolls and translating poetry for a wizened Berber.

The director Gillies MacKinnon and his screenwriter brother Billy have chosen to adhere pretty faithfully to Freud's novel, in so far as incident is preferred to plot, with a light drizzling of atmosphere and characterisation to brighten the salad. Julia's flakiness is contrasted with the severe good sense of her older daughter Bea, who wants some order in her life: a school uniform would be a start. And while Julia's goal may be regeneration of the spirit, she is not above tending to the demands of the flesh - her involvement with a handsome Arab scoundrel, Bilal (Said Taghmaoui) simmers on a low flame throughout.

Yet as the minutes tick by, a question nags ever more insistently: where's the movie? It can't just be this parched assemblage of half-drawn scenes and fragments, can it? The novel at least risked the formal conceit of a child as narrator, from whose vantage the mother's feckless indulgence could be felt as a genuine source of confusion and resentment. Up on screen, however, it's all about as substantial as a joss stick. The film keeps setting up potential narrative lines - Julia visits a sheikh to ask about becoming a Sufi; Bea is apparently abducted by a Christian orphanage worker; sister Lucy falls violently ill - and abandons them just as they threaten to become interesting. The rest of the time it comes on with the naive enthusiasm of just-returned holidaymakers who insist on offering you first peek at their snaps. Here's the time those prostitutes stole Mum's trousers from the laundry; here's the riverbank where we ate that tuna and threw up; here's us on that trip to Bilal's village... and so, insouciantly, on.

What may halt the slide from drowsiness into somnolence are the performances of the two girls - Bella Riza and Carrie Mullan, take a bow - and the star presence of Kate Winslet, who couldn't have chosen a droughtier film to follow the watery perils of Titanic. The relatively downbeat nature of her role speaks well for Winslet's adventurous side, though she isn't required to project much beyond apple-cheeked discomfort. In truth, there's not much for anybody to do here, so vaguely are character and action delineated. MacKinnon tried this elliptical style of film-making in his last film, Regeneration, an adaptation of Pat Barker's Great War novel that strove to piece together a splintered drama from the psychology of young, battle- damaged officers. The technique fails him in Hideous Kinky, however, because its wispy conflation of family memoir and hippie travelogue never persuades us that anything - psychological, romantic or cultural - is at stake.

Hard to believe, but there's a film this week with even less dramatic friction than the above, and it's called How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Based on the novel by Terry McMillan, it's one of those Personal Growth stories that I hesitate to call a woman's picture - no woman I know would be taken in by its shameless fantasy-peddling. Stella (Angela Bassett) is a 40-year-old stockbroker and single mother so wrapped up in her work that she's forgotten how to have fun. On a whim, she takes off with her best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg) for a holiday in Jamaica, hoping to rediscover her, um, groove. In double-quick time she finds herself the love object of a hunky youth (Taye Diggs) who's half her age: cue some minor dithering on Stella's part about the disparity in years, followed by some major holiday romancing in de luxe Caribbean surroundings.

The first-time director Kevin Rodney Sullivan gives his camera full licence to wallow within the two-hour span, drawing out every sun-kissed beach scene to Chinese water-torture length. As if waking up to its complete absence of drama, the story has recourse, like last week's Stepmom, to the queasy standby of terminal illness: Delilah is fading away with cancer, though not before passing on to Stella some wonderful death-bed wisdom, the burden of which is to follow your dream. Or something.

In truth, this mawkishness should come as no surprise. Once you see the name of Ron Bass under screenplay credit - this the man behind Waiting to Exhale and the abominable What Dreams May Come - you'd be wise to assume the crash position. If emotional terrorism were a criminal offence, Mr Bass would go down for life. All that saves Stella from being absolutely irredeemable is the opportunity it offers to gaze upon the Amazonian gorgeousness of Angela Bassett; you would have thought from looking at that wise, elegantly planed face that she'd be too smart to lend herself to this junk, but no. As Stella's girlfriends keep saying, "Don't go there."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory