February 6, 1990
Bawdy Bette becomes Bawling Bette in “Stella,” a no holds barred mother/daughter tearjerker that will have Midler fans and die hard romantics reaching for the tissues and casual viewers â€” particularly males â€” looking for the nearest exit.
“Stella,” a remake of the 1937 Samuel Goldwyn production with Barbara Stanwyck is a love it or leave it picture that clobbers the audience with contrived situations aimed at the heartstrings and tear ducts, not necessarily in that order Those willing to surrender to its charms and forgive its excesses should be suitably drained by the end credits In the story, feisty barmaid Stella Claire (Midler) begins an ill fated affair with a voung doctor, Stephen Dallas (Stephen Collins), in 1969 and suddenly finds herself pregnant Refusing the handsome doctor’s help because she knows their marriage would be doomed, the spunky Stella, who decides against an abortion, single handedly raises their offspring, Jenny (Trim Alvarado).
For 16 years, the mother and daughter enjoy a wonderful relationship in their lower class Watertown, N Y, home, which Stella â€” who dropped out of school in the 10th grade â€” supports through a struggling door to door cosmetics business.
But when the mother starts worrying that Jenny may fall into a trap of marrying a poor boy with no ambition and may be locked into a dead end life of poverty with some “thug,” she figures the teenager would be better off living with her wealthy father and his refined fiancee (Marsha Mason).
From there, “Stella” follows the mother as she schemes to force the girl to leave and even uses her drunken boyfriend (“Roseanne’s” John Goodman in a very unappealing role) to trick Jenny out of the house and into the life of luxury offered by her loving father
The daughter’s leaving, of course, crushes Stella, who finds renewed strength at the end when she watches her daughter walk down the aisle and into a world that offers culture refinement and an American Express Gold Card.
Taken at face value, the PG 13 picture seems fairly harmless entertainment Midler, who with her ordinary features and expressive face plays an underdog as well as anybody in the business, seizes the part and wrings every laugh and tear from the material But scratch at the surface of “Stella” and a very disturbing theme of bourgeois bliss emerges.
Accordingto the film, directed by John Erman (best known for the television dramas “An Early Frost,” “The Letter” and “Who Will Love My Children'”), true happiness can’t be found in the blue collar working world, where real folks scrape out a living.
“Stella” creates an arrogantly dishonest Donald Trump type pipe dream about the ability of money to transform life into something truly magical, a land of Oz where all young suitors are Ivy League gentlemen and where wealthy country-club types fall just behind Mother Teresa on the nobility scale.
That totally dishonest picture insults average working people, since they are presented as buffoons who consume too much beer, dress in garish outfits that would embarrass Cyndi Lauper, read tabloids from cover to cover and never open a book.
Perhaps it’s unfair to examine a movie like “Stella,” which suffers from an incredibly cheap look due to the limited number of setsÂ and static action,
Erman also creates some laughably cliched moments.