Emma Stone is one of the most exciting young actresses working today. She worked her way up in the ranks of quirky teenage comedies proving her ability to perform in an array of roles in various genres along the way. In such a short career, we have seen her portray a young writer in a segregated community in the 1960s Deep South, the drug-addicted daughter of a washed-up actor and a conniving maid working her way up to win the favour of the Queen of England. Naturally, she has made some mishaps in her career (most notably, her controversial turn in Aloha as a quarter-Chinese, half-Hawaiian woman which she openly regrets) but for the most part, she has grown and matured as a performer. Even her turn in the darkly comedic picture, The Favourite shows a huge improvement from her turns in Superbad and Easy A.
Nominated for 3 Oscars with a win in 2016 for La La Land, Stone’s star shows no sign of dimming any time soon and with her upcoming Cruella de Vil origin story set to hit the screens in 2021, it’s exciting to see what else she will do. She is a star who doesn’t divulge hugely in the celebrity lifestyle and clearly has an ingrained passion for her craft which is refreshing to see. Easy A proved to be her breakthrough into leading roles and what she has achieved within a decade, most people would spend their whole careers dreaming of. What better way to celebrate Stone’s illustrious career than discussing the highlights.
Here are my top 5 Emma Stone performances in chronological order:
Easy A (2010)
Stone’s first leading performance just so happens to be one of the 21st century defining teen comedies. Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a bright and overlooked student who is quick with her wit and yet underwhelmed with her current social standing. During a party, she pretends to have sex with a friend to stop rumours that he is gay and word quickly spreads about “slutty” Olive as she pretends to have sex with guys in her school in exchange for gifts. We see Olive thrust into the spotlight reluctantly and judged by her peers and the teachers at her school. The script is fantastic and the scenes where Olive and hardcore Christian Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes) face off are incredible. Olive is a brilliant character because she is so self-aware of the mistakes that she makes and the web of lies that she is trapped within. It is the sincerity that Stone portrays Olive with that really brings that emotion to the surface as she records her side of the situation on the webcam. She doesn’t try to justify what she has done but she uses it to explain why she decided to do what she did. There is also an amazing supporting cast including Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s parents and a welcome cameo from Malcolm McDowell as Principal Gibbons. Even though it is a film aimed for a teenage audience, there is plenty there for an adult audience to enjoy.
The Help (2011)
This film sees Stone cast against type and venturing into more dramatic roles. The Help is a film mired in controversy due its white saviour narrative disguised in a well-meaning intentions. I do believe that director, Tate Taylor, didn’t realise this when making the film and I do think that the cast do a brilliant job with the script that they’re given. Stone portrays the lead, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, an aspiring journalist who looks to chronicle the treatment of black maids in Jackson in 1960s Mississippi. Skeeter fits the typical white saviour tropes as her character has been created with hindsight. She is made to be an outsider as she doesn’t fit in with the ideals that are expected from the white community as she yearns to have a career in a “man’s world”. Because she doesn’t fit in with the white community, she finds that this is something she has in common with the black community, specifically the maids who work for her friends and Constantine (Cicely Tyson), the Phelan family’s maid from Skeeter’s childhood. These are definite flaws that are present throughout the film and have been justifiably addressed since the film’s release. I have included Stone’s performance in this list, however, because I think that this performance shows a different side and her ability to lead a large starry cast. The Help was made with a big budget and did extremely well in the box office and critically, receiving nominations in awards season and wins for Octavia Spencer who plays the brilliant Minnie. Stone plays Skeeter interestingly as she is a character who observes and listens to the stories. She steps back and watches the action unfold. A lot of her acting in this film is through expression rather than words which Stone brings in abundance and although the concept of the film is flawed, I think the sincerity that Stone brings to the character shouldn’t be entirely overlooked.
Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
Anyone who claims that Stone has just struck lucky and isn’t a good actress needs only to watch her performance in Best Picture winner Birdman. The film follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), an actor known for his previous outings as superhero Birdman and his attempt to break into serious acting by directing and starring in an adaptation of Ray Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” work on Broadway. Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter who has recently come out of rehab and is learning to adjust without drugs. It’s a small role and yet Stone shines bright among the starry cast. The scene in which she has a breakdown after Riggan finds her weed is astonishing and well-deserving of the Oscar nomination that Stone received. This is a role in which see a darker side of Stone where the character of Sam is emotionally exhausted which comes across in Stone’s physicality. Her character drifts and becomes ghostlike such as the dressing room scene in which she fades into the background as Lesley (Naomi Watts) storms in and starts ranting about her to Mike (Edward Norton). In a film that relies on such quick pacing and non-stop movement by its cast and crew as the camera winds its way down the corridors of the theatre, it is Sam that brings it to a halt in her scenes. Her easiness and contemplative nature are reflected in the way the film is structured and her scenes see her fixated in one room rather than moving.
La La Land (2015)
La La Land showed Stone’s already shining star skyrocket to a global phenomenon as she swept awards season for her role as Mia in Damien Chazelle’s homage to the classical musical. The film follows aspiring starlet Mia who works in a café at a film studio and her chance encounter with aspiring jazz musician, Sebastien (Ryan Gosling) and their subsequent romance. The film is clearly inspired by films such as Les Parapluies des Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Casablanca which Chazelle has listed among his favourite films. It’s a beautiful film filled with nostalgia while giving it a 21st twist and innovative direction. Stone is impeccable in her role as an actress playing an actress who is yet to have a big break in Hollywood. We see her fail in auditions initially mainly due to her lack of confidence. Her passion for acting is clear when she talks but she is unable to project that passion for the casting directors. Through the film and the romance with Sebastien, she becomes unguarded and unafraid to be herself. The character is refreshing and begins to experience a new perspective on life. This results in the iconic audition scene, with the song “Audition”, in which Mia sings about an aunt whose freedom inspires her.
The Favourite (2018)
Probably my favourite Emma Stone performance, The Favourite is a brilliant insight into British history from the weird mind of Yorgos Lanthimos. Stone plays Abigail, a young maid whose father gambled her off in a whist. She arrives at Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) palace seeking employment and works in the kitchens as a scullery maid until the ruthless and watchful eye of her aristocratic cousin, Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). It’s a fantastic love triangle as Sarah and Abigail fight for the Queen’s favour. The film undoubtedly belongs to Colman, who won an Oscar for her troubles but Stone is utterly captivating. She bounces off perfectly to both Colman and Weisz, allowing her cruel nature to bubble beneath the surface. Sarah is known for her loyalty to the crown and her firmness but Abigail keeps her motivations hidden and brings a sweet and innocent exterior. It’s extraordinary seeing Stone play such an evil character with so much charm and charisma that her award nominations were inevitable. This film was my favourite from this year’s awards season and it was such a shame seeing it not receiving the attention that it deserved. It’s so rare seeing three female characters dominating a film with fleshed out personalities that are complex and captivating and that’s exactly what Lanthimos has done. I would love to see another Lanthimos/Stone collaboration on the cards in the future.
It’s amazing to think that these 5 performances show different sides to Stone and yet there is a 8 year difference between the first and last with three Oscar nominations, including a win in between. I don’t think that Stone is an actress who should be overlooked and I think that she is someone who has even more up her sleeve. I am very excited to see what the future brings for her.
Which Emma Stone performance is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!