Desperation Unknown

Unlike the flop-sweating neurotics of his comedies, Albert Brooks the director shows none of the comedian's high anxiety

The director dealt most directly with his roots in 1996's underrated Mother, a movie that culminated Brooks's analytical project so completely that The Muse could in some ways only serve as a footnote--and in some ways does. Still, what's consistent about the new film is its maker's talent for writing intelligently about characters who aren't as smart as he is--which is to say that The Muse critiques the kind of Hollywood screenwriter-for-hire that Brooks himself is not, the kind who would believe in an instant that artistry can be bought and paid for. "We could come up with subjects right now for scripts that would sound hugely commercial," says Brooks, mirroring his character's quick-fix "concept" of writing a script expressly for Jim Carrey. "If you go and have a meeting tomorrow with MGM, and you mention that you have an idea for a comedy with Mike Myers in it, you'll get your money."

In light of the industry's absurd preoccupation with megastars, The Muse works as a pointed satire of the creatively bankrupt filmmaker's longing for the perfect collaborator. But does it also suggest that Brooks--a well-known former ladies' man who describes himself as having been "like Warren Beatty without the sex"--might have found a muse in the mother of his new baby? "When you earn your living making people laugh," Brooks says, "there's this sort of artificial, momentary thing about it, a feeling that people love you for a minute in a very shallow way. And when you have that, it's so great to have one person for real, because otherwise it can feel very lonely and weird. When I used to do standup in front of 10,000 people, and the audience would be laughing, I'd go back to the hotel and I wouldn't have one person to sort of ground myself. So it's just much better being married, and I've never been happier than with having a child. I mean, all the good clichés of parenthood I've found to be completely true."

At this, one journalist among us inquires whether the baby's delivery caused the new dad to "freak out," perhaps imagining a Nine Months-style slapstick comedy that Brooks wouldn't make in a million years. "The head popped out and I cried," Brooks reports, provoking a heartfelt "Awwww" from the members of the press. Then the punch line: "Of course, I was paying by the inch."

Losin' it: Writer-director-star Albert Brooks (at right, with Jeff Bridges) in The Muse
Losin' it: Writer-director-star Albert Brooks (at right, with Jeff Bridges) in The Muse


The Muse starts Friday, August 27 at area theaters.

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