A-mused

A writer's muse inspires everyone but him.

ALBERT BROOKS IS the outsider's LA insider. His wry humor carries, at its best, a devious twist and a sharp, self-effacing bite.

THE MUSE

directed by Albert Brooks

starring Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges, and Andie MacDowell

opens August 27 at Guild 45th, Bella Bottega, and others

His whining, neurotic characters (always played by himself) skate between emotionally insecure artists and Hollywood creative types, whose smart-ass quips hide fragile souls and pathetic, self-absorbed boobs with more ego than talent. In recent years, Brooks' satire, often inspired and almost always dead on target, has mellowed into a less dangerous, more reflective mode. With The Muse he's found his least pompous creation.

Steven Philips is a 50-ish career scribe already losing out to younger writers when hotshot industry suits claim he's lost his edge. "Possibly writing is something you shouldn't do," says one honcho young enough to be his son, before canceling his contract and booting him off the lot. If Brooks had made this film 15 years ago, Steven would have been a desperate, success-driven bundle of nerves ready to sacrifice his integrity, his talent, and his friends for a shot at success. But in The Muse, Steven is a man grounded in his family, his neuroses only flaring up in the sudden stress of a stalled career and a self-esteem to match. He takes the unlikely advice of his fabulously successful buddy Jack (Jeff Bridges): Get a muse. Not a mistress, but an honest-to-Zeus, straight-from-Olympus mythical muse. "You get her, your life is never going to be the same," promises Jack.

Sarah (Sharon Stone, who displays a rarely tapped flair for comedy) guarantees inspiration, but her price is her upkeep: She's a spoiled and impulsive creature with expensive tastes and temperamental demands. With midnight runs for Spago take-out and $1,000-a-day hotel bills ("Think of it as an investment," reasons Sarah nonchalantly), it's not long before Steven's wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) finds out about the high-living goddess. Steven fears a jealous misunderstanding, but the two women become fast friends. In a funny twist of plot, he continues to struggle with a troublesome script, while his wife flowers with independence and a career that could bring in more money than he does.

Brooks takes plenty of hilarious pokes at the vanity, youth worship, and brittle cocky fronts surrounding frail egos and flailing desperation. The parade of cameos by Sarah's "client list" is a veritable who's who of Hollywood hot: Rob Reiner, James Cameron, and a jittery, caffeinated Martin Scorsese chattering a mile a minute in Steven's backyard while seeking Sarah's approval for his latest project. Only in Hollywood could advice from the daughter of Zeus become therapy, inspiration, and a creative green light all rolled into one.

The Muse makes an interesting contrast to this summer's other Hollywood spoof, Steve Martin's gag-laden Bowfinger. Where Martin lovingly punctures Hollywood narcissism with the eager optimism of a modern Ed Wood and the comic possibilities of a Chuck Jones cartoon, Brooks satirizes the shark pool of predatory deal-making and power lunches with the jaundiced eye of someone who hates it almost as much as he loves it.

There are moments where I miss the old Brooks of hopelessly self-absorbed underdogs and cutting satirical edge. In The Muse, his ideas are sometimes funnier than the execution, the humor is more smart than rib-tickling—but the film sticks where other, funnier films quickly fade from memory.

 
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