Starring: Sharon Stone, Albert Brooks
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Albert Brooks
Imagine, if you will, a world in which every writer had -- like a personal
trainer, personal coach, personal assistant, personal chef -- a personal
muse. No more writer's block or procrastination. No sabotaging
self-doubts. No sadistic inner critic. This writer's fantasy is
brought to life in the movies by Albert Brooks in The Muse.
Steven Phillips (Brooks) has just been honored with a humanitarian award.
Driving home from the black-tie ceremony, his daughter asks, "What's
a humanitarian?" "It's someone who's never won an
Oscar," replies Steven in a classic Brooks deadpan. We quickly
learn that Steven, a once-successful screenwriter, is slipping from
his niche in the Hollywood food chain. His scripts don't sell,
he can't write, and, worse, he has no inspiration. In Hollywood-speak,
he is "losing his edge" -- and everyone from his producer
and agent to his best friend will not let him forget it.
What to do?
When Steven goes to seek the advice of his wildly successful writer
friend, Jack (Jeff Bridges), at his Bel-Air home, he notices a mysterious
(and gorgeous) woman furtively slipping into a taxi. Is Jack having
an affair? he wonders. Steven bares his soul to Jack and, as an aside,
asks about the mystery woman. After a bit of, "Oh, I really can't
say," shenanigans, he swears Steven to secrecy and tells him
that Sarah (played by a diva herself, Sharon Stone) is a muse and
singularly responsible for all of his recent success. As Steven is
desperate enough to believe anything he implores Jack to speak to
Sarah on his
But everything comes with a price. The Muse is a bit like a reverse
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. At least Gray -- in a bargain
with the Devil -- maintained his youth (even if his portrait is ravaged
with age). Steven becomes contractually involved with a greedy succubus,
a vampiric materialist. In Steven's bargain with Sarah he must
satisfy her outlandish demands: a $1700-a-day room at the Four Seasons,
a Waldorf salad from Spago's at three a.m., a limousine and driver,
a gift from Tiffany's. And when all that isn't enough, Sarah
begins to encroach upon her "client's" home and family.
Steven jokes that she's like "the Muse who came to dinner."
(A take-off on the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman Broadway play, and eventual
film, about a bitter radio celebrity on a lecture tour who breaks his
hip and must stay in a quiet suburban home for the winter -- driving
the residents crazy.)
Whenever Steven has doubts about Sarah's muse-ability, he is privy
to some well-known movie artist having a tete-a-tete with her. One day
it's James Cameron (the director of The Titanic), who leaves her
bungalow muttering about Sarah's advice: "No water . . . stay
away from water . . . forget about water . . ." On another day
there is "Marty" Scorsese who tells Steven that Sarah has
advised him to do a remake of Raging Bull, only this time using "a
real thin guy." Steven grumbles to himself that the next thing
she'll have Scorsese do is a remake of Taxi Driver with all women.
But one day it seems as if Sarah might actually be worth her weight
in gold. She tells Steven they need to go to the Long Beach Aquarium.
How did she think of that he wants to know. She saw an advertisement
in the newspaper and "dreamt" about it. Steven is certain
this is it -- the moment of inspiration he has been waiting -- and paying
-- for. As he and "the Muse" make their rounds of the aquarium,
Steven is suddenly hit with a notion for a story that takes place at
-- where else -- an aquarium. How about "Jim Carrey inherits an
aquarium?" he beams. Not to be eclipsed, Sarah says that, yes,
she was very pleased with The Truman Show. "You were responsible
for that?" he gasps. And as they're leaving they run into
Rob Reiner who fawns over Sarah and says, "Thank you for The American
President," as he removes his Roliflex and hands it to her.
Steven immediately writes the screenplay and gives it to his agent who
sends it to Paramount Studios. But he is incredulous when he discovers
that Universal Studios already has the exact same script in production
-- with, non other, than Rob Reiner as the screenwriter/director. "The
Muse stole my ideas!" Steven shrieks at his wife (who also has
been "inspired" by Sarah to start a very successful cookie
company -- with the patronage of Wolfgang Puck).
So, the supposed daughter of Zeus, one of nine sisters -- "All
the women in my family are muses" -- turns out to be . . . . But
then you will find out for yourself when you watch the movie.
You may wonder why I didn't place this film in Chapter 2: Divine
Inspiration: Meeting the Muse, rather than using it to illustrate a
chapter about writer's block and self-doubts. Think about it. As
much as we would like for there to be an answer outside of ourselves,
a divine muse to transfer a faithful current of inspiration -- like
Steven and Jack and James and "Marty" and Wolfgang -- we are
essentially left to our own contrivances. Every writer must become his
or her own muse. Who breaks through writer's block? Ultimately,
we do. Who silences the inner critic. We do. Who conciliates any self-doubts?
We do. Who frees the writer within . . . .
Copyright by Cathleen Rountree July 2002