Sharon Stone has always been an under-rated actress, but she may finally get her due with her sparkling comedic turn in the title role of "The Muse," as a literal, inspiration-spawning, divine daughter of Zeus living the good life as a hanger-on in La La Land.
With vivacious whimsy she plays her fussy, pampered, domineering demi-goddess -- the secret spring of creativity for Hollywood elite when their tapped-out talent needs divine intervention -- as a mix of Norma Desmond and the Spice Girls in both attitude and wardrobe.
But she's an old school idol, and she doesn't work cheap. A bobble from Tiffany's is the smallest offering she accepts in return for taking a meeting (she's oh-so-L.A.) with filmmakers who desire her magic touch. If she agrees to help, she requires her clients put her up and cater to her every whim. In exchange she makes no suggestion -- she just inspires them with her presence. (Figuring out if her effect is real or psychosomatic is part of the film's fun.)
Meanwhile, moiling, middlebrow movie scribe Steven Phillips (writer-director Albert Brooks) is stuck in a rut. He can't sell a script to save his life, and in a town where people lie to your face about how great you are, Steven is getting "Possibly writing is something you shouldn't do anymore" from an obnoxious junior suit who releases him from his studio contract.
In standard Brooks style (ala "Mother," "Defending Your Life," et al), "The Muse" is sharply self-deprecating as a desperately insecure and skeptical Steven meets the Muse for the first time, on the reluctant counsel of his best friend, an aloof and self-interested fellow screenwriter (Jeff Bridges) who won an Oscar after basking in her aura.
Little does he know what he's in for. After a couple of nights at the Four Seasons at Steven's expense, Sarah (Stone) moves in with his family following a midnight tantrum over insufficient room service (the Four Seasons wouldn't fetch her a Waldorf salad).
What's worse, Steven starts getting jealous of his wife (Andie MacDowell), an aspiring Mrs. Fields, who seems to be getting more out of Sarah's influence than he is (a dessert deal at Spago, for starters).
But just as he is getting fed up with all this kid-gloving of his vexatious house guest, Steven strikes upon an idea for what he sees as a sure hit. The pitch? A zany comedy in which Jim Carrey inherits a near-insolvent SeaWorld-like park and tries to turn it around.
It's part of the movie's unspoken satire that this "brilliant" idea is sheer summer movie numbskullery -- because "The Muse" is, above all, a sweetly acerbic in-joke on Hollywood.
Too capricious to compare to "The Player" but considerably more subversive than Steve Martin's slightly-too-silly "Bowfinger," Brooks' sublime and subtle script gives "The Muse" a manifold sense of humor, dense with jokes that have two or three layers of laughs -- softly ironic on the surface and almost bitterly rock hard below.
Even "The Muse's" mythological elements are mined for abstruse digs at the movie biz, e.g. the "star" treatment demanded by the narcissistic, accustom-to-sycophants Sarah, who may be propitious and peppy but is downright impossible to please.
One hundred percent an Albert Brooks story (co-written with Monica Johnson, his frequent collaborator), your enjoyment of this movie might depend on how you feel about his whining chump persona. He's kind of a West Coast Woody Allen.
But whether or not you go in for that sort of thing, "The Muse" is still worth seeing just for Stone, who steals the movie with a hitherto untapped comic flair that lends itself to the best performance of her career.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th August 1999
Distributed by: October Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 37
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Albert Brooks
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