Friday, November 6, 2015

Birthday Take: Emma Stone in "Birdman" (2014)

Emma Stone in Birdman
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Emma Stone
Born: November 6, 1988 (27 years old) 
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress (nominated) as Sam in Birdman

The Take

Among the more noteworthy young actresses working is Emma Stone, who seems to be having banner year after banner year. Ever since her breakout role in Superbad, she has slowly gone through the role of sarcastic teenager to the complicated 20-something. What makes her more interesting is that despite excelling at an archetype, she's also had just as many bombs surrounding her recent career. If one doesn't know what that means, simply look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Aloha. The latter film even gained notoriety for her depiction of playing an Asian character despite being, through and through, not Asian. Still, she has something to her charm that makes you root for her, even as she's reteaming with Woody Allen in arguably his most conspicuous film to date this past summer with Irrational Man.

But, what makes us like her? It has to be more than the performances. In today's modern world, you have to have a personality that sticks out. Despite playing those sarcastic characters, Stone is generally an interesting person to interview or get involved with late night show projects. It makes sense why she ended up being as big as she did. Still, to parallel that with her actual career is an interesting move, because as much as she is likable, she hasn't had nearly as many successful films to back that. Even then, it's not entirely her fault. We don't hate her at all. Like most people, she just does an occasional bad project for whatever reason. She's young. She'll bounce back.

Which makes Birdman an interesting role for her. She is the sarcastic character. As a person fresh out of rehab, she is angry at her father, who is trying to stage a comeback despite not having any idea of how to do it. She is a frustrated figure who is more known for yelling and flirting with co-stars than any compelling character development. She is playing the aggressor, frustrated with being trapped by her father's problems. What exactly makes her a compelling character? Well, it could just be that Stone has aged her sarcastic teenager into an adult character who has lived life and is trying to become a better person. Her addictions still impact her, but she comes across as being hopeful.

In a way, it epitomizes what Stone as an actress has become. While the success of Birdman still seems strange, it definitely seems stranger that this would be the role that Stone got it for. If anything, it's just so... familiar. She doesn't do much that's out of her wheelhouse. Maybe it's fine that some performers get that "cumulative" nomination. It's not like I expect this to be her only nomination in her career. If anything, she'll be back in a few years when she finds that next big project that wows everyone. However, I do hope that it manages to have a little more depth and complexity than her role in Birdman. Yes, it's a fine performance that shows her doing what she does best, but it could easily be mistaken for her just doing the motions, as she has with a lot of other roles.

Stone is a fine actress, worthy of some attention. However, I don't know if she has anything beyond the sarcastic role that has really stood out. As much as I am fine with her slowly developing into the next stage of her life, it still feels weird to call her an Oscar nominee. Sure, it's a performance rich with life and offers a decent balance for the other performances in the film. It's just that it doesn't give a different or more interesting side to her. For now, I am fine with her being an interesting personality. It goes far in entertainment. I just wonder what will happen when she turns in that surprising role that gives us a new side to her as a performer. Maybe the clunkers will pave way to that. Maybe it will all show its interesting face in time.

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