BetteBack February 16, 1990: ‘Stella’ Review – Midler is worth seeing in anything

Corbin Daily Tribune
February 16, 1990


Back in 1937, the late, great Barbara Stanwyck had one of her best roles as “Stella Dallas” – the brassy, self-sacrificing mother based on the lead character in Olive Higgins Prouty’s book. Now, Bette Midler tries the role in an updated version for Disney.

The moviemakers must have thought you could take a story from one era and willy-nilly adapt it to another. After all. single mothers are still poor and struggling like Stella. But It’s not that simple. The story depends upon specific attitudes about class, illegitimacy, sex and femininity that have changed drastically since the ’30s.

This time, the drama is set in the late ’60s. Barmaid Stella spurns the marriage proposal of a doctor (Stephen Collins) who has gotten her pregnant. Pride and independence color Stella’s refusal. with the story pivoting on how she has to raise a daughter (Trini Alvarado) alone.

Stella, however, seems to love this doctor, and he seems to be a good man. So her refusal of him reads as an obligatory plot development, not a credible outgrowth of the drama. Throughout, Stella does Improbable things – culminating in giving away her college age daughter to the girl’s father and his wealthy new wife (Marsha Mason).

Why does Stella need to give up a grown girl? So that the mo\1e can reprcxiuce the famous tearjerker scene when she peers in the window of a shiny restaurant, sobbing away as her baby is married to a handsome, well-heeled WASP.

“Stella” provides a synthetic, cornball view of self-denying motherhood. Still. Midler is worth seeing in anything.

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