Cinema Station

Picture of the Week: The Muse (1999) | May 22, 2012

The Muse (1999)

The Muse suffered the fate of most Albert Brooks directed films. That is to say it slipped into the theatres and then slipped out again virtually unnoticed. And the critics weren’t any help either. They either damned it with faint praise or ignored it completely. But the film is a delight that should be seen by anyone who enjoys intelligent comedy coupled with common sense and a few flights of fancy.

The plot is about Steven Phillips (Albert Brooks), a screenwriter who was, if not riding high in Hollywood, making a good living writing scripts that were regularly being turned into mainstream movies. At the beginning of the picture we see him getting some minor award for screenwriting, so we have to assume that the guy is good at what he does. Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere his scripts are being turned down by various Studio Execs who keep telling him that he “lost his edge”. He can’t figure out what that means so he turns to his friend Jack (played by Jeff Bridges), a commercially successful award winning screenwriter, with his problem. Jack listens carefully and then tells him that he needs a muse. Jack says that he consulted one and it turned his career around. He gives Steven her number and cautions him to approach her carefully because she is very particular about whom she takes on as a client.

A skeptical Steven calls up this muse played by Sharon Stone and that’s when his problem truly begins because the Muse is eccentric and demanding in all kinds of ways. Andie MacDowell plays Steven’s patient wife whose life and marriage is being turned upside down by both Steven and the Muse. But it’s really Steven who winds up topsy- turvy with the Muse and her impact on his creativity and his home life.

I personally don’t think that Sharon Stone has ever been photographed more attractively or performed more winningly in any other motion picture than in this one. Andie MacDowell hits all the right notes as the bemused and sometimes confused wife. Jeff Bridges who rarely gets to play comedy does so in a role that’s all too brief. There are also several amusing cameo performances by Martin Scorsese, Wolfgang Puck, James Cameron and Rob Reiner. But it is Albert Brooks at the center of the story who anchors the film and keeps it sturdy.

Between 1979 and 2005 Brooks has co-written (with Monica Johnson), acted and directed nine films. All were good in their own way. My favorites are Lost in America (1979) and Mother (1996). As an actor for hire he has appeared in 32 films including most recently the underrated Drive (2011). He is one of those quiet screen actors who do not get enough attention or appreciation for the excellence of his work across the board.

With The Muse he gives us a sly, amusing nudge in the side about the contemporary Hollywood Film Industry, its value system and its absurdities. Give this one a try and see if it doesn’t leave you smiling the way it did me.

-GE.

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