Calliope inspired epic poetry; Thalia covered comedy and Euterpe fired up musicians, but according to writer-director Albert Brooks, Hollywood power players have their very own muse: the flighty, demanding Sarah (Sharon Stone).
Brooks has tapped into an inspired story line with The Muse, and effectively captures the capricious nature of an industry which demands constant creativity from its writers, yet keeps them toiling at the bottom of the food chain.
Steven Phillips (Brooks) is a successful screenwriter whose career is suddenly put into jeopardy when a fatuous – and, not coincidentally, much younger – studio exec (Mark Feuerstein) tells him that he’s "lost his edge." Trying to get anyone to explain what this vaguely ominous term actually means is an exercise in futility. As Brooks so pithily encapsulates in The Muse, this is a world which values not what someone has done, but how those accomplishments are perceived by whoever’s in power at the moment.
Enter Sarah, who Steven believes can change his fortunes by inspiring a commercial screenplay. After all, she helped out his big-shot producer friend, Jack (Jeff Bridges), as well as directors James Cameron and Martin Scorsese (in somewhat strained cameos).
But what exactly does a muse do in Hollywood? According to Brooks and co-screenwriter Monica Johnson, whatever she can get away with. This includes residing rent-free in suitably lavish surroundings and receiving expensive baubles in powder-blue Tiffany’s boxes from her clientele.
Steven is understandably dubious, especially since the very pricey Sarah doesn’t actually seem to do any work. His wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell), is downright suspicious. That is, until the charming Sarah becomes her best girlfriend and encourages Laura’s instantly successful cookie business.
Even with a sharp, funny premise, a beguiling Sharon Stone and a breezy tone buoyed by Elton John’s baroque pop score, Albert Brooks loses his way in the film’s third act when he superimposes an earthly explanation for Sarah’s otherworldly powers. It’s as if he’s forgotten his own dictum for The Muse (perception before reality), which Sarah understands perfectly: that fine Hollywood art of telling people what they want to hear.
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