Albert Brooks is really a likable guy. His movies are not always exceptionally great, but they’re always at least interesting and more thought out than the junk clogging the screens at multiplexes. He only made 6 movies in 20 years, about various things that touched him. “Real Life” was about the media, “Modern Romance” about relationships, “Lost in America” about American lifestyle, “Defending your Life” about death and “Mother” about, well, mothers. His latest is obviously near autobiographical. It’s a witty comedy set right into the filmmaking world, and it deals with a lot of the things Hollywood is (in)famous for. I’m not in the business per se, but I still enjoy movies that deal with the often perverted process of having a film produced. “The Muse” is the kind of movie you’ll like most if you’re a movie buff. A fanatical moviegoer and avid reader of anything about Tinseltown, I delightfully got all the clever, cynical in-jokes Brooks makes about showbiz.
The film has him playing Steven Phillips, a fairly talented screenwriter who was once nominated for an Oscar and received the ubiquitous Humanitarian Award but never really made an impact. Now in his forties, he has to endure ignorant and annoying studio executives telling him he’s “past his prime”, that he has “lost his edge”. Steven is starting to feel he has lost it when a successful writer friend (Jeff Bridges) tells him his secret: he found a genuine muse who gives him the inspiration to write! Phillips is skeptical at first, but after meeting with Sarah (Sharon Stone), a daughter of Zeus relocated in L.A., he starts to believe. All of the sudden, he has this great ideas for a summer comedy with Jim Carrey as a doofus who inherits an aquarium! But Sarah is a real spoiled woman, and her demands are exorbitant. Fancy food, gifts from Tiffany’s, limousine rides… She even decides to move in with Steven and his family! That also leads to Sarah “inspiring” his wife (Andie MacDowell) to start a cookies business, and to a lot of hassle, as he starts to wonder if it’s worth it…
As I said, I’m a fan of Albert Brooks’ work. His screenplay is inventive, insightful and often funny, and his direction is lively without being frenetic. I was also pleasantly surprised by the score Elton John penned for him. I feared John might overdo it and make it schmaltzy, but he delivered a top notch score. Brooks is also an always interesting presence on screen, with his neurotic behavior and acerbic humor which make him some sort of a West Coast Woody Allen, and the respect he inspires in the biz allowed him to cast the likes of Rob Reiner, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron in amusing cameos. I also dig how he has the hysterically laid-back Steven Wright playing Steven Spielberg’s underachieving cousin Stan!
Oddly, the thing that works the least in the film is the muse herself. Sharon Stone is a pretty good actress, but she’s not that funny, and it’s a bit of a one-note performance. She’s just this chick who’s always complaining and expecting to be treated like a princess. It’s an original premise, but it drags after a while, as if Brooks didn’t quite know what to make of this magical element in his generally realistic film world. Because of that, “The Muse” is almost tedious. It’s got wit, it’s got laughs, but overall it’s uneven.