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Saturday, Sept. 16, 2000

'THE MUSE'

The world according to Zeus


It's only a movie. Still, watching "The Muse" for me was like attending a symposium titled "What's Wrong With Your Life and Why You Can't Fix It," and it caused a dose of muted, self-pitying sniffles. Other women may feel the same, unless they spend days reclining on a satin sofa, dressed in a peignoir and occasionally fanning themselves with something feathery.

But let's face it. Isn't the fact that we don't fall into this category the reason why we're at the movies in the first place? And that movies, especially those made in a certain region of California, are designed and manufactured for people like us? Such unoriginal and depressive thoughts haunt the brain and before you know it, you're nodding to yourself in a dark theater: "Uh-huh, so that's where I went wrong."

According to "The Muse," where I went wrong starts at birth. The Muse is a goddess and one of the daughters of Zeus. (There were nine altogether.) And as we know, the business of the Muse is to provide creative inspiration. This is why all her admirers are creators: directors, musicians, screenwriters. This is why everyone in the business is desperate for her attentions. And one director/actor, Albert Brooks, was driven to the point of making a movie about her.

In a brilliant stroke, he cast Sharon Stone as the Muse. If this role had gone to Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan, their credibility would be debatable. But Stone tells you her papa is Zeus ("He had a terrible drinking problem. All gods do.") and you accept the fact without question.

Here is a female born to recline on satin sofas and order Waldorf salads from room service. When she gets bored, she calls up some guy (some guy like James Cameron or Martin Scorsese) and he comes sprinting over with a little gift from Tiffany's. Actually, she doesn't even have to call. They queue up outside her door and inquire solicitously about her health, her feelings, her mood for the day. Is she feeling up to pitching a little inspiration their way? No? OK, we'll call again later.

In "The Muse," Albert Brooks plays Steven Phillips, a Hollywood screenwriter who has somehow "lost his edge." Despite the advice of agents and producers to take a long break, Steven looks for some miracle, an act of God, to salvage his career. His best friend Jack (Jeff Bridges) tips him off about Sarah (Stone), who is in fact a muse. Sarah helped Cameron with "The Titanic," she inspired Rob Reiner for "The American President" and now every director in town is dying to make friends. Though skeptical, Steven is ready to try anything. Instructed to take her a gift from Tiffany's (she has a weakness for the shop), he selects the cheapest thing on the shelves (he has a thrifty heart) and shows up at her doorstep.

Steven is willing to woo this muse, but nothing prepares him for Sarah's actual demands, which include the suite room at the Four Seasons, a limo at her disposal and calls around the clock asking for magazines, organic veggies, bobby pins, etc. Apparently that's how this high-maintenance, chick-from-hell operates: Her clients pick up the tabs and wait patiently until inspiration falls on their heads like a brick or a wad of credit card bills. Steven says yes to everything, since a new comedy starring Jim Carrey is taking shape in his head. Even his wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) becomes enamored with Sarah and invites her to stay in their home, as an honored guest.

"The Muse" is Sharon Stone's movie all the way and a rare vehicle in which she's not asked to flaunt her sexuality every three frames. What she flaunts instead is a clever self-parody that highlights her megalomania, greed, delusions of grandeur -- and real cuteness. Until "The Muse," you'd never have known how cute she could be.

Kudos should go to costume designer Betsy Cox, who dresses Stone in an array of Ungaro silks that drip with elegance/arrogance. All women, at some point in their lives, should stride around a hotel in an Ungaro peignoir.

Which leads me to the sad, inevitable observation: What's wrong with my life is that I'm doing the writing instead of the musing and that there are no peignoirs in my closet. None. The moral of this movie is that if you're going to choose between having a Muse at your side and lounging around at the Four Seasons, the latter should win, hands down.

"The Muse" (Japanese title: "Hollywood Muse") is playing at Yurakucho Subaru-za and Cinema Rosa in Ikebukuro.


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