Movie Review By Casey McCabe
The funny thing about watching someone else writhe in their pitiful insecurities is the fact that it's someone else. Albert Brooks has always understood this, falling on his sword time and again to give us sharp little comedies like "Lost In America," "Defending Your Life" and "Mother."
Something about his latest film, "The Muse," suggests Brooks is tired of kidding around. His target is big and obvious, the film industry itself, and his character, an aging screenwriter, hardly needs Brooks' help to appear desperately insecure.
Brooks plays Steven Phillips, a screenwriter with an Oscar nomination to his credit, but who has since "lost his edge" as they say. Which in Hollywood, as they say, can simply mean he's over 29. Steven turns to Jack Warrick, played by Jeff Bridges, an old screenwriting friend and recent Oscar winner to discover his secret. And what a secret it is. Warrick has found his muse. And that's Muse in the upper case. As in daughter of Zeus and goddess of creative inspiration. She lives. She breathes. She's played by Sharon Stone. No matter that Stone doesn't look Greek, or that the whole divine premise goes virtually unquestioned. If you can save a Third Act in Hollywood, you can call yourself whatever you like. And so the Muse, who also calls herself Sarah, takes Steven as a client. The only thing she asks in return is that Steven be at her beck and call 24 hours a day, and pay every capricious tab she rings up.
Andie MacDowell plays Steven's wife, Laura, a sweetly patient Andie MacDowell type character. Where the viewer might expect jealous sparks to fly, Brooks explores another of his favorite themes -- emasculation. The two women become fast friends and confidants, the Muse spurring Laura to follow her lost calling -- selling homemade cookies to Wolfgang Puck -- which makes Laura both spiritually fulfilled and financially successful, while Steven still flounders, awaiting the divine guidance he's bought and paid for. Like the rings of a redwood tree, you can count Brooks' growing trepidation by the number of furrows in his brow.
Brooks pays the whole excercise off with a pretty clever ending, even if you can see it coming. Add cameo appearances by Rob Reiner, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese playing themselves, and you have a glib indictment of Hollywood's creative capacity. This is an insiders movie. But are we really in on the joke? Is Brooks? In "The Muse," it's often hard to tell.
This is not the black humor of "The Player," nor the youthful subterfuge of "The Big Picture." It's a high concept film that wants to make fun of high concept filmmaking. Then perhaps aware of the irony, it does so only halfheartedly.
Maybe Brooks, so brilliant at sharing his insecurities, didn't trust his own muse on this one.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 8/99
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