Synopsis: In true Hollywood fashion, successful screenwriter Steven Phillips (Albert Brooks) learns his career is ending over lunch. Trying anything to get it back, he meets with an enviously successful friend (Jeff Bridges) who advises the services of an absolute goddess named Sarah Little (Sharon Stone). Sarah’s a real-life Muse, one of the nine daughter’s of the Greek god Zeus, whose earthly task it is to inspire creativity. Divine services do not come cheap, however, and Sarah details her extravagant and eccentric needs to Steven as terms for taking him as a client. Despite his wife Laura’s (Andie MacDowell) misgivings, Steven accepts the terms. As a result, Sarah charms her way deeper into their personal lives and her quirky and amusing behavior changes Steven and Laura forever.
Boasting a host of Hollywood luminaries in lighthearted cameos, this wry comedy pokes hilarious fun at Tinseltown itself.
The Muse 8.0
eyelights: its clever skewering of Hollywood. the subtle humour. the dialogues. the concept. the cast.
eyesores: Albert Brooks’ screen persona. its less biting second half.
“This is Hollywood. People here believe anything!”
Your career is in a tailspin. Though you haven’t lost your enthusiasm, everyone you work with seems to think that your best days are behind you. Naturally, self-doubt creeps in and you become debilitated by uncertainty. This only serves to give credence to the naysayers.
What do you do?
If you’re a writer, as Steven Phillips is, you get yourself a Muse. In Greek mythology, the Muses were the daughters of Zeus and they inspired humanity with respect to art and science. Sarah, who is a modern day Muse, is Steven’s only hope to regain the edge everyone says he’s lost.
‘The Muse’ is a 1999 comedy co-written and directed by Albert Brooks. Starring Brooks, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell, it follows Steven as he goes from feeling on top of the world (“I’m king of the room!”) to learning to live with the intrusions of Sarah in his personal life.
Sarah is a diva. She is used to being spoiled rotten and wants everything her way. Having been in Hollywood for as long as she has been, helping some of the industry big shots (including Steven’s best friend, Jack), she is used to being pampered beyond reason, showered in gifts.
This makes working with her a true challenge for Steven (Brooks), as Sarah’s (Stone) demands are well beyond his means and he has to explain the expenses to his spouse (MacDowell). Plus which, it takes up all of his time, so he has very little time to write anymore. He’s in a bind.
Will the Muse make him or break him?
Though I’m a fairly big Albert Brooks fan, I think that ‘The Muse’ is one of his greatest achievements (second only after ‘Mother‘). It mixes up comedy with romance with fantasy nicely, all the while skewering Tinseltown’s frivolity and shallowness to pure perfection – deservedly so.
Brooks knows that Hollywood is the world of illusion and delusion. Though he was born and bred in Beverley Hills, he sees the absurdity inherent in the film industry’s bubble. And he’s not alone: He’s managed to reel in a few notable celebrity cameos to poke fun at their public image.
Jennifer Tilly and Lorenzo Lamas have very funny bits, but my favourite comes from Steven Wright as Stan Spielberg, with whom Steven has an appointment, thinking he is meeting with Stan’s famed cousin Steven. Utterly clueless, all Stan can do is advise him to “make it in colour”.
Then there are the cameos from Martin Scorcese, who visits Sarah all wired and manic with an idea for a remake of ‘Raging Bull’ (only with a “thin and angry” guy), and James Cameron, who also pops by and receives the advice to skip the sequel to ‘Titanic’ (“Stay out of the water”).
Sarah’s own work with Steven leads him to write a screenplay for a Jim Carrey vehicle set at a large aquarium. It sounds absolutely cliché-ridden and pathetic, but somehow Steven is excited by it and he gets enthusiastic responses from both his spouse and his agent.
Albert Brooks is his usual on-screen persona, all selfish and narcissistic, but he’s incredibly funny most of the time. His direction however is a bit heavy-handed in moments, overplaying some of the humour for maximum comic effect. It’s a style that may work for some, but I prefer subtlety.
Sharon Stone is the perfect incarnation of a diva Muse. Unfortunately, whether it’s due to Brooks’ direction or her own choices, she overdoes a lot of the comedy, all googly-eyed and slightly overzealous. Having said this, when she’s more natural she is really quite superb in the role.
Andie MacDowell, however, is another matter. I’ve never liked her as an actress; I’ve always found her rather artificial, clearly acting instead of inhabiting her characters. This is was really self-evident in moments like when she gives Steven advice or reacts to his story ideas. Ugh.
But Brooks (and frequently collaborator) Monica Johnson’s script is really quite excellent: It’s full of terrific ideas that flow easily, and the dialogues are sharp, biting with wit and satire. The humour is multilayered, sometimes extremely direct and sometimes much more discreet.
And there are even wonderful moments that are purely visual, though they are few. There’s one that I find absolutely side-splitting, in which Steven tries to play tennis with Jack (a brilliantly distracted Jeff Bridges), but the guy just can’t seem to get any of the balls over the net.
Jack is so that out of it, that he keeps forgetting to impart upon Steven key information for working with Sarah. This causes Steven all sorts of headaches, naturally. But he eventually gets to write his script, though the end result isn’t exactly what he had hoped for initially.
“The Muse… the Muse… the Goddamn Muse”, he finally utters to himself.
‘The Muse’s observations on, and jabs at, the film industry are carefully crafted and just a lot of fun. It’s a picture that’s packed with great laughs and beautiful Hollywood locations, ensuring that pretty much all mature audiences will find it entertaining and rewarding.
It may not be movie magic, but it’s well-worth seeing.
Date of viewing: June 17, 2016