[Screen It]


(1999) (Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild None Moderate None *Minor
Minor None None Minor Mild
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate None Mild Minor Minor

Comedy: A screenwriter who's been told he's lost his edge hires a muse hoping she'll be able to help put his career back on track.
Steven Phillips (ALBERT BROOKS) is a veteran screenwriter who's just been dropped from a three-picture deal with a major studio. Despite a previous Oscar nomination and a track record of seventeen finished scripts, prop-collecting producer Josh Martin (MARK FEUERSTEIN) tells Steven he should find another profession, stating that he's lost his edge, a point reiterated by Steven's agent, Hal (BRADLEY WHITFORD).

Confused and understandably upset about this sudden turn of events, Steven confides in his old Hollywood buddy, Jack Warrick (JEFF BRIDGES), another writer who recently went through a similar creative slump. Reluctantly, Jack informs Steven of the source of his career rebound -- an actual mythological muse whose job is to inspire creativity in artists.

Although Steven initially doesn't believe him, he's desperate enough to try anything. Thus, he goes off to meet Sarah (SHARON STONE), a pretty but pampered woman who immediately sets the ground rules for their relationship. As such, her job is to inspire, but not actually write anything for him. In addition, Steven must pay all of her expenses -- including a $1,700 a night suite at the Four Seasons -- and be at her beck and call anytime, day or night.

Steven's wife Laura (ANDIE MACDOWELL) is obviously suspicious of her husband's new interest in another woman, but after the two meet and Sarah inspires the homemaker to follow her dream of marketing her homemade cookies, the two become fast friends. With the fact that Sarah is spending less and less time with him coupled with her growing eccentricities and the disruption of his life, Steven begins to fret that she won't be able to help him finish his screenplay.

Not unless they're fans of Brooks and his movies or someone else in the cast.
For brief nudity.
  • ALBERT BROOKS plays a neurotic writer who eventually agrees to allow a muse to help him jumpstart his career. Along the way he cusses a bit and becomes jealous of and doesn't encourage his wife's success.
  • SHARON STONE plays an eccentric woman who states she's a muse and thus the daughter of Zeus. As such, she lives a pampered life and orders around those she's agreed to help.
  • ANDIE MACDOWELL plays Steven's wife who decides to pursue her goal of becoming a cookie manufacturer and does become successful at it.
  • JEFF BRIDGES plays Steven's old friend and fellow writer who informs Steven of the muse.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    In the overall chain of events required to make a movie, none of the links are as important as that of the screenwriter and his/her script. Although the performers and directors get all of the attention, money and/or credit for a film's success, without the lesser-known screenwriter, none of that would be possible.

    Of course, with all of the flotsam out there masquerading as good stories, many might be inclined to think of the screenwriter as the guilty party and thus the weakest of the links. While that's occasionally correct, often the finished stories that you see on the silver screen have been filtered, edited and otherwise modified by any number of people down the chain and thus are far from what the writer originally envisioned and wrote.

    It's no wonder, then, that screenwriters are often a neurotic and occasionally psychotic bunch. Not only do they have to watch their "offspring" being changed before their eyes, but they must also contend with the dreaded and awful writer's block. For anyone who's ever attempted to write something longer than a letter or short story, there's nothing worse than having that blank sea of white (or nowadays, the blank computer screen) staring you in the face as if to mock your untalented attempts.

    Being a screenwriter himself, writer/director/star Albert Brooks ("Mother," "Defending Your Life") has more than likely encountered that creative demon himself, and he uses that concept to comic effect in his latest film, "The Muse." Playing off the notion that such writers will desperately seek any sort of creative inspiration to get their fingers going, this intelligent if not entirely satisfactory film should please Brooks' hardcore fans, but should have a harder time entertaining the average moviegoer.

    With the laughs less obvious and abundant than in his last outing, "Mother," a less compelling plot than in "Defending Your Life" and with a few too many insider Hollywood jokes, this may prove to be one of Brooks' weaker efforts. As is the case with the similarly cerebral but neurotic characters played by Woody Allen, Brooks' schtick is something of an acquired taste. While I've personally enjoyed his past characterizations, the one here feels a bit too repetitive, stuffy and increasingly irritating. The result of that and the fact that he doesn't deliver or elicit enough laughs to compensate for that problems means that we consequently don't like his character all that much, which is a big problem for any movie, let alone a comedy.

    An even bigger one, however, is when a film's material is either too narrowly defined -- and thus goes over the audience's heads -- or simply isn't that funny. That first point pertains to the movie's many Hollywood references. While this obviously isn't the first film to focus on the inner workings of Tinseltown -- others, such as the great "The Player" have previously done so -- it's another one that plays better to those who are movie savvy.

    While it's fortunate not to be too insider heavy and thus difficult to watch, it does have plenty of name dropping -- "Carrie" director Brian De Palma wants Steven's old office -- and cameo appearances -- directors James Cameron ("Titanic") and Martin Scorsese ("GoodFellas") seek advice from the muse. That ensures that those "in the know" will better grasp such humor than those who don't recognize such names or faces.

    The film's biggest error, though, is that it's just not that funny. While Brooks delivers his trademark, amusing asides to what others say or do, there aren't enough of them. To compound that problem, neither the story itself nor the described movie plot that Steven's writing and discussing are funny either. While the latter could be intentional to a) be a scathing remark about Hollywood's vision of big budget, big name comedies or b) prevent someone else from taking the idea and turning it into a full-fledged film of their own, the end result is a rather flat comedy.

    The whole gist of having the muse progressively disrupt Steven's life and pay more attention to others soon becomes more irritating than funny, and Brooks and cowriter Monica Johnson don't offer up enough other material to take up the slack. While the muse is obviously Steven's comic foil, she's not even in the same league as Debbie Reynolds' maternal character in "Mother." Thus, this film suffers from not having as strong a character to bedevil Brooks' character and his neuroses.

    Unfortunately, the performances from the great cast don't help matters much. As earlier mentioned, Albert Brooks plays his normal neurotic and complaint-filled character, but becomes clearly too irritating and nearly constipated in action for his or the film's overall good.

    Although some may state that Sharon Stone ("Gloria," "Basic Instinct") has already appeared in plenty of comedies -- okay, they weren't intentional -- she really can't do much with her character as it's written here. Although that -- and her awful looking hairstyles -- are finally explained by a late in the game revelation, such info comes too late.

    Supporting performances -- beyond the many cameos by real Hollywood personas -- are okay, with Andie MacDowell ("Four Weddings and A Funeral," "Multiplicity") delivering a decent, if unremarkable take on Steven's entrepreneurial wife. Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges ("Arlington Road," "The Big Lebowski") is pretty much wasted in a smaller role, although he gets a mildly funny bit involving his tennis game.

    While the film offers a few generally funny moments -- including Steven's "walk" through the Universal Studio's lot to see a certain Mr. Spielberg, and later trying to explain his occupation to a man who doesn't grasp English that well -- most of the other humor is too low-key when it needs to be more outrageous. Although it's clearly not an awful film and Brooks' fans will probably enjoy it, they'll certainly admit it's clearly not one of his better efforts. Thus, "The Muse" rates as just a 5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated comedy. A brief glimpse of Sharon Stone's bare breasts and the top of her bare butt earn the film its rating, while a few brief, sexually related comments also occur.

    Profanity consists of several uses of the "s" word, along with other milder profanities and a few phrases. Some drinking occurs, as do a few bad attitudes. Beyond that, however, the remaining categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • Some people have wine at an awards dinner where Steven mentions if not for his family, he'd be down in some seedy bar, but then jokes that's where he'll be after the dinner anyway.
  • People have wine with lunch.
  • We see Steven and Laura drinking martinis.
  • Steven jokes that if he didn't have a family, he'd be out buying heroin.
  • We see what looks like brandy in Sarah's suite and later we see her having wine.
  • People have wine and drinks with lunch when Sarah mentions that her father, Zeus, was an alcoholic and Laura mentions that hers was the same (and that her parents are still together, thus enabling them to drink together).
  • Later, a comment is made that all of the gods drink.
  • People have drinks at a reception, including Steven who has champagne.
  • Steven and Laura have wine with dinner.
  • None.
  • Some may see Sarah's pampered/spoiled behavior, her belief in polytheism and her stint as portraying a muse as having some of both.
  • Josh is somewhat demeaning to Steven about his work and overall talent.
  • Steven initially jumps to the conclusion that Jack is having an affair with Sarah, as does a friend of Laura's about Steven and Sarah (and his wife initially thinks the same -- compounded by the fact that he doesn't tell her right away what's going on).
  • Steven initially doesn't encourage or support Laura's decision to follow her dream of making and selling cookies.
  • Steven learns that someone stole his screenplay idea and gave it to another studio.
  • We learn that a producer had been stealing props from others and keeping them in his office.
  • None.
  • Dejected over a turn of events, Steven jokingly says that he'll be the one out back with a gun in his mouth (this doesn't happen).
  • Phrases: "Holy sh*t," "Take a piss" and "Piss off."
  • None.
  • None.
  • We hear just the beginning of the song "Super Freak" by Rick James that has the lyrics, "She's a very kinky girl...The kind you won't bring home to mother..."
  • At least 3 "s" words, 7 damns, 3 hells and 9 uses of "Oh my God," 5 of "Oh God," 3 of "Swear to God," 2 each of "G-damn," "For God's sakes" and "God" and 1 use of "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • Steven jokes that he feels like a eunuch at an orgy, and adds that although the eunuch at least gets to watch, he's not even invited to the (movie) set.
  • Steven's daughter comments that his award looks like a penis (it doesn't). He then wants to know where she heard that word (the Howard Stern radio show) and then says that nobody can say it outside of a clinical discussion. His other daughter then wants to know what's wrong with "penis."
  • Sarah shows some cleavage as does a later miscellaneous woman.
  • Laura eventually announces that she knows Steven isn't having sex with Sarah. When he asks why, Laura states that she knows he couldn't get aroused by someone who made him do so many errands.
  • When Steven learns that Laura has invited Sarah to sleep in their bed (with just her, but not in a sexual context), he asks "You're not attracted to her, are you? You don't want to sleep with her, do you?" She then states that she won't dignify those questions with an answer.
  • We briefly see Sarah undress and get into bed (and while doing so we briefly see her bare breasts as well as the top of her bare butt).
  • None.
  • Steven and Laura have some mild arguments about Sarah, with Laura initially thinking he's having an affair. After hearing her mom on the phone talking about this, one of their daughters asks if they're getting divorced (but what sounds serious turns comical as the girl starts asking what she can have if they do break up).
  • What really inspires people to be creative.
  • The mythology of muses.
  • Polytheistic beliefs.
  • A tiny bit of slapstick material occurs in the form of a hotel staffer running into Steven and accidently knocking him to the floor.

  • Reviewed August 12, 1999 / Posted August 27, 1999

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