Film: Half-baked in the sun


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."

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?