(director/writer: Albert Brooks; screenwriter: Monica Johnson; cinematographer: Thomas Ackerman; editor: Peter Teschner; cast: Albert Brooks (Steven Phillips), Sharon Stone (Sarah, the muse), Andie MacDowell (Laura Phillips), Jeff Bridges ( Jack Warrick), Catherine MacNeil (Anne), Mark Feuerstein (Josh Martin), Bradley Whitford (Hal); Runtime: 97; USA Films; 1999)
“I thought Brooks mailed this script in.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An uninspiring film about a muse (Sharon Stone) in Hollywood helping a writer (Albert Brooks), who was stuck without a good idea for a script. This is a dull, unfunny film, lacking an edge, as if the screenwriter is past his prime and maybe should take some time off to re-gain his touch.
Albert Brooks’ (Modern Romance, Defending Your Life, Mother) latest film deals with his critique of Hollywood’s taste, as it results in Brooks turning out the same kind of film he is railing against. This sitcom story is actually less worthy than most TV sitcoms; it should have come with canned laughter. In the theater I saw it, no one laughed; and, watching a comedy without hearing any laughs gives me a creepy feeling. The film lacked the kind of comedy expected for a satire. Even if the story never took off I, at least, expected the film to have some snappy things to say about those who are part of the Hollywood Establishment and not to mirror it so closely with the Hollywood scene that it can’t even be considered a parody anymore. I thought Brooks mailed this script in. All the cameo performances–Rob Reiner, Cybill Shepherd, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Lorenzo Lamas, Wolfgang Puck, and Jennifer Tilly–added nothing to the story.
It was hard to think of Brooks as a victim of Hollywood when he was surrounded by so much wealth and the only thing he strove for was to become even wealthier. On top of that Brooks never asked the muse to inspire him to write a great classic, only for some “summer script” he can sell to the studios as a blockbuster movie. If he was trying for a parody (which I assume he was), he just didn’t succeed. All he succeeded in showing was that there is some bitterness in him and that he’s part of the “fat cats” who make up the Hollywood scene, those who are too complacent to make a real satire with some bite.
Brooks portrays someone who fits into the affluent Hollywood milieu of private tennis courts and swimming pools, and lives in a mansion with a guest house.
I think the main problem, besides the fact that it’s a one-idea joke, is how that idea was weak and never developed. Brooks’ character never spelled out why he was so desperate, and he never showed us how good a writer he was. It was difficult to see what was his problem, especially, when he has a lovely wife (Andie MacDowell) whom he loves and two sweet daughters, is wealthy, has a splendid home, drives a Mercedes, is an established Hollywood writer after 17- years in the business, and has good contacts.
I feel I must question the film’s intent: Why should I feel sorry for Brooks? What is this edge that he is supposed to have lost? Where is the comedy? What is this nonsense about getting a live muse supposed to mean? What kind of statement is he making about creativity? Should I really believe that someone would have the chutzpah to make a film about a screenwriter who lost his touch and pays for a muse so he can get that touch back, and makes a film that is so flat and uninspired? Is he trying to tell me that people in Hollywood will believe in anything and so should I?
The Muse opens with Brooks winning a Humanitarian Award. His daughter asks him, “What is a humanitarian?” And he responds, “It’s someone who’s never won the Oscar.” And there you have the funniest line in the film and it comes right in the beginning. After a meeting with a studio executive (Feuerstein), who tells him his script is no good, Brooks then turns to his successful writer friend, Jeff Bridges, who suggests he contacts the same muse who helped him. A muse being any one of the nine mythological Greek daughters of Zeus who are divine sources of inspiration, but in this case it is the mentally unstable Sharon Stone.
What goes for comedy, has to do with Brooks’s whiny relationship to the muse. The muse is demanding gifts from Tiffany’s jewelry store and insists on being placed in an expensive hotel suite, later on she will occupy the bedroom of his house, with him forced to sleep in the guest house. He also must run errands for her and caters to all her whims. She in return, helps him out by suggesting he go to the aquarium in Long Beach and find something there to use for an idea. He follows the muse’s advice and comes up with a lame idea for a film that needs Jim Carrey as a star. That is supposed to be his way of saying that Hollywood doesn’t know what’s good from what’s crap. His wife will also be inspired by the muse, she will go successfully into the cookie business. That becomes a source of some more whining on his part. This is “I Love Lucy” kind of humor.
This film is about making money being tantamount in Hollywood to creativity, which is a theme that has been often done. But, this film has not touched on any new ground with that concept. In fact, it even adds to the belief that money and creativity should be connected by its use of the muse to help the writer who wants only to cash in on a hit. If you make a satire, it better be funny or biting. To have a satire with nothing to dig into is unfortunate. Brooks chose to go for his laughs by having his character be a whiner: grousing about the demands of his muse, the attention she gives to his wife instead of him, how Steven Spielberg snubbed him, and how cruel it is to be in Hollywood if you are a creative person. This slight aim at comedy turns this into a slight film. If you really had to see this film the only reason I could think of doing so, was to see the attractive Sharon Stone as a muse. Even though the script did not provide her with material that was funny, she did show by her facial expressions and body language that she has a penchant for comedy if given a chance. At least she was more lovable than anyone else.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/99 GRADE: D