The Muse

When we first meet screenwriter Steven Phillips (Albert Brooks), he’s on top of the world. He’s just received a humanitarian award for his body of work, which includes seventeen films, an Oscar nomination, a beautiful wife and family, and a comfortable home with a guest cottage. He also a three-picture deal with Paramount, and is anxiously awaiting word on his latest project.

When that word comes, Phillips seemingly perfect life comes tumbling down like one of those expensive homes on the hill in Malibu. Not only does the studio hate his latest project, they cancel his contract and call him out of touch. That’s Hollywood for you. King of the world one night, a peasant the next.

For anyone who has ever wondered about the internal machinations of a Hollywood screenwriter, you must see Albert Brooks’ latest comedy “The Muse.” A hip, funny, and ultimately cheerful exercise, “The Muse” is a perfect example of a great script and cast coming together to make magic.

Suffering from mental constipation, Phillips needs more than inspiration, he needs a miracle to save his career. Both arrive in the form of Sarah (Sharon Stone), a self-professed Muse and one of the original offspring of Zeus. That is what she claims, and no one in Hollywood is arguing with her.

When his best friend, screenwriter Jack Warrick (Jeff Bridges) recommends her, Phillips is naturally skeptical. What Phillips doesn’t know is that Sarah is Hollywood’s best kept secret, but she comes with a price tag. She’s very demanding, works when she wants to, and expects the world to jump at her every whim.

Sarah doesn’t actually do anything except offer inspiration to her current employer. Sarah tells Phillips to consider her expenses an investment in his future in Hollywood, yet the exuberant hotel bills (she can only stay in the most luxurious suite) and constant errands begin to take their toll on him.

It also causes discord between Phillips and his lovely wife Laura (Andie McDowell), who suspects that her husband is having an affair. All of that changes when Sarah comes to the Phillips home to live, and immediately casts her charms over the household. It’s not long before Phillips is hammering out a hit comedy for Jim Carrey, while Laura explores her dream of becoming a famous cook.

What I’ve always appreciated about an Albert Brooks film is the filmmaker’s ability to write and direct strong female characters even if he’s forced to ride shotgun. “Mother” was a great showcase for Debbie Reynolds, while “The Muse” offers Sharon Stone the opportunity to flex her comedy muscle.

Stone is hilarious as Sarah, a woman so sure of herself that she can wear her hair in a bobby- pinned mess without hesitation. There is such an assurance in her performance that you instantly cave into her charms. Even at her most goofy, Stone is a pleasure to watch. Her delivery is perfect, while her expressions are priceless.

Andie McDowell also shines as Phillips’ trusting wife who also blossoms as the film progresses. McDowell excels in comedies like this (“Green Card” was another), and her performance is nothing short of pleasant. Jeff Bridges appears briefly as Phillips friend, and even in a minor role, leaves an impression.

I’ve always been a fan of Albert Brooks, and he succeeds in making “The Muse” a big grin of a movie. His dead pan humor and sly asides always hit the target, while his writing (with co-writer Monica Johnson) and directing skills never betray his sense of comic timing. The film moves at a clip, and never slows down.

Those who don’t indulge themselves in a steady diet of Entertainment Tonight might miss some of the inside jokes, but the dialogue is so sharp and funny that most audiences will find plenty to laugh at. The film features a number of funny cameos, from James Cameron (“Stay off the water” Sarah confides in him about a sequel to you know what) to Martin Scorsese, whose caffeine high is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Even though there are a few rough spots in the middle of the film, the first and third acts are so solid they support these trouble spots without much strain. The rest of the film is filled with delicious, at times wicked dialogue, smart, savvy performances and strong direction.

Together, they create a film that is not only a welcome surprise during the dog days of summer, but one worthy of recommendation.


[THE MUSE Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone, Andie McDowell, Jeff Bridges, Mark Feuerstein, Steven Wright in a film directed by Albert Brooks. Rated PG-13. 97 Minutes.

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