Let Me Consult My ‘Muse’

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Who hasn’t wondered where today’s ideas for movies could possibly have come from. Or why some writers seem to flourish while others, equally talented, get bogged down in the slough of despond. Albert Brooks lets you in on a need-to-know show business secret: It’s all due to “The Muse.”

In Greek mythology, the Muses were nine daughters of Zeus, each responsible for inspiring a different facet of creativity. But what if one of these remarkable women were alive today and found her way to Hollywood? Whom would she be able to help, how would she manage it, and what kind of chaos would it cause to have a Muse on your payroll?

This is the charming conceit of “The Muse,” starring, directed by and co-written (with longtime collaborator Monica Johnson) by Brooks, just the person to turn out the sharpest inside Hollywood comedy in quite awhile.


A poet of exasperated comic desperation who grew up in the business (his father was a celebrated performer known as Parkyakarkus), Brooks did stand-up before he went wider with his singular brand of humor and hard-wired it into films like “Mother,” “Defending Your Life,” “Real Life,” “Lost in America” and “Modern Romance.”

Because Brooks’ comedy is inextricably linked to his on-screen persona of someone frantically trying to cope with existence without benefit of the proper instruction manual, his co-stars are especially important. And when he cast Sharon Stone as Sarah the show-biz Muse, he made a wonderful choice.

Though her career has been built on very different kinds of roles, one of Stone’s earliest parts was in another inside Hollywood comedy, the underappreciated “Irreconcilable Differences,” and her sure-handed, gleeful work in “The Muse” plays well against Brooks’ anxiety and underlines her own real gift for confident verbal humor.

When we first meet Brooks’ character, screenwriter Steven Phillips, he’s sharing the pride of a Hollywood humanitarian award with his wife, Laura (a warm Andie MacDowell, also well cast), and the thought that he might need the help of a Muse, or anyone else for that matter, is far from his thoughts.

But come the following week, at a lunch with heartless studio executive Josh Martin (a clever Mark Feuerstein) to discuss his new script, the ax falls. “Let me put it in a form that isn’t too insulting,” Josh says, overflowing with bogus concern. “It’s no good.”

The script is so no good, it transpires, that it’s beyond notes, beyond even keeping Steven on his current studio retainer. “The problem with the script is you,” the exec insists, presumably still trying not to be too insulting. “You’ve lost your edge.”


Flailing around for any source of support or advice, Steven goes to see old friend and lately very successful screenwriter Jack Warrick (Jeff Bridges in a rare small role). When he drives up to his pal’s Bel-Air house, he sees Jack solicitously putting Sarah into a taxi and though he thinks there’s a sexual connection, Jack proceeds to set him straight.

Remember that Greek myth about the Muses?, he asks. “What if I told you they still exist.” With Sarah’s help, he says, sounding like a convert to creative Viagra, “you’ll write better than you’ve ever written in your whole life.” “I want in. This is what I need,” Steven insists, setting the stage for a movie that proves, once again, that it pays to be careful what you wish for.

For Sarah turns out to be very much of an L.A. Muse: a bossy, super-demanding prima donna who has to be courted with gifts from Tiffany and set up in rooms--and, mind you, not just any rooms on any floor--in the posh Four Seasons Hotel. Plus, Sarah doesn’t seem to really do anything. She just . . . inspires.

Naturally, all this makes even Steven’s understanding wife, Laura, more than a little suspicious, but Sarah smooths that over. In fact, she’s soon making changes in Laura’s life as well, and, like the Muse Who Came to Dinner, moving into the Phillips’ Pacific Palisades home without any immediate plans for departure.

Brooks and co-writer Johnson have a great ear for the cultural rites and foibles of Hollywood, and “The Muse” is enlivened at numerous points by deft pokes at studio mores, like the humiliations Steven has to endure, including the lack of a coveted drive-on pass, when he wangles an appointment to meet with Steven Spielberg on the Universal lot.

Helping the satiric edge is the film’s adroit use of real-life cameos. Studio exec Josh, for instance, takes time out from telling Oscar-nominated Steven he can’t write to assure handsome Lorenzo Lamas that his script is brilliant. And both James Cameron and Martin Scorsese make brief, pleasantly self-deprecating appearances as directors who have been helped by Sarah, though when Rob Reiner shows up and thanks her for “American President,” it’s hard not to wonder who is kidding whom.


Underneath all its humor, “The Muse” manages to casually deal with some fascinating issues, such as the nature of creativity and inspiration and the important role belief has in making things happen. After all, as someone says, “This is Hollywood. People here believe anything.”

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for brief nudity. Times guidelines: a sophisticated sense of humor.

‘The Muse’

Albert Brooks: Steven Phillips

Sharon Stone: Sarah

Andie MacDowell: Laura Phillips

Jeff Bridges: Jack Warrick

Released by USA/October Films. Director Albert Brooks. Producer Herb Nanas. Executive producer Barry Berg. Screenplay Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson. Cinematographer Thomas Ackerman. Editor Peter Teschner. Costumes Betsy Cox. Music Elton John. Production design Dina Lipton. Art director Marc Dabe. Set decorator Anne D. McCulley. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

In general release throughout Southern California.