This Was the Year Emma Stone Could Do Anything, and Did

She was already an Oscar-winning actor, but in 2023, Stone brought her talent and her clout to risky, unique projects, taking big swings and connecting every time.
This Was the Year Emma Stone Could Do Anything and Did
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I have spent a lot of time in the latter part of this year looking at Emma Stone's face, and her face is incredible. It's not just that she's beautiful. She is, of course. That goes without saying. But the extraordinary way she uses it makes her one of the most fascinating and gifted performers working today. She's good with words, too—she has a knack for nailing a punchline and an ability to wring humor out of disturbing situations. But she holds so much in her enormous eyes that you can't help think she would have thrived as a star in the silent era because of how much she conveys without saying a word.

I've, naturally, been thinking a lot about Stone because of the near-simultaneous releases of her Showtime series The Curse on Showtime and her feature film Poor Things in theaters, both of which exemplify this exciting new phase in Stone's career. It's trite to say an actor is "brave," but these both feel like essentially brave works—boundary-pushing projects that others might balk at because they're so offbeat. She's also maybe she's the best she's ever been in both of them.

It's not that Stone's bona fides needed defending beforehand. She's an Oscar winner, after all, for La La Land, an award that was probably hers the moment she delivered that climactic song about dreams and her aunt that lived in Paris. But La La Land also relied on an image of Stone that was familiar. She played a role she understood quite well: That of the ingenue who just needed her big breakthrough.

Since that win, her work—minus maybe the unnecessary Zombieland sequel or the Disney cash-grab Cruella, the latter of which I'll admit was fun—has only gotten more adventurous. Her performance as the scheming Abigail in Yorgos Lanthimos' 2018 surreal period farce The Favourite felt like a turning point, and linking up with Lanthimos again for Poor Things only proves how far she's willing to push herself.

In Lanthimos, known for his strange fantasies, Stone found her weirdo artistic soulmate. Poor Things casts her as Bella Baxter, a woman who has been reanimated from the corpse of a suicide victim and given the brain of that dead body's unborn child. When we first meet Bella she has the demeanor of a nonverbal toddler. Stone's eyes are wide as she bangs on a piano or shouts "wee" to indicate that she's peeing on the floor.

Over the course of the plot, Stone—and I truly don't know how she does it—lets intelligence seep into her eyes. It's partially due to the rest of her physicality. As Bella leaves the home of her maker, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), driven by her curiosity, sexual and otherwise, her halting walk starts to smooth out; her jerky movements become refined. In each scene you can see her learning to use words and her mouth. By the end Bella has bloomed and it's remarkable to think back to where she started.

Bella could not be more different than Whitney, the character Stone plays on The Curse, the darkly funny drama co-created by Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder. Whitney, along with Fielder’s character Asher, is a wannabe HGTV host in Española, New Mexico. She thinks of herself as an artist and activist, designing mirrored “passive” homes that are eco-friendly and severely out of place in the depressed community where she and Asher are conducting their business.

As Bella, Stone uses her glances to demonstrate how someone takes in the world to become her true self; as Whitney she offers a study in how to portray a person who is constantly hiding her actual feelings from the audience. Whitney doesn’t want to seem like a spoiled rich girl, so she smiles too intensely as she promises she is not a gentrifier. She would prefer that others not know her marriage is on thin ice, so she rolls her eyes almost imperceptibly at Asher. It’s a chilling display of compartmentalization.

Stone is a producer on both The Curse and Poor Things, and she is as much an author of them as Lanthimos, Fielder and Safdie. Her taste is evident in the other projects she is lending her name to with her Fruit Tree shingle alongside her husband Dave McCary: The couple is behind her Zombieland costar Jesse Eisenberg’s latest, A Real Pain, which is headed to Sundance along with another Fruit Tree production, I Saw The TV Glow, the new one from Jane Schoenbrun who made the freaky-cool We Are All Going to the World’s Fair. Stone and McCary, himself a Saturday Night Live alum, also produced Problemista from Julio Torres, the mind behind two of Stone’s greatest SNL sketches, “Wells for Boys” and “The Actress.”

All of this amounts to a picture of Emma Stone as a sort of auteur, providing a space for herself and others to try out their best and oddest material; stuff that is designed not to coddle, but to test audiences. Next year she will star in yet another Lanthimos film, now titled Kind of Kindness, to which we say: Bring on more Emma Stone greatness. We are ready.