STONE

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CUL­TURE - Lisa Kennedy (lkennedy­writer@gmail.com) is a former film and the­ater critic for The Den­ver Post.

of a mu­si­cal opened the Den­ver Film Fes­ti­val, the 27-year-old ac­tress — who left Scotts­dale, Ariz., at a ten­der age to pur­sue act­ing — shared a dif­fer­ent sort of au­di­tion tale.

“I had a cast­ing direc­tor, Al­li­son Jones, she called me in for a bunch of things in those three years be­tween 15 and 18 when I was au­di­tion­ing all the time. I’d go in to net­work for a se­ries and not get it,” she re­counted. Jones would call her in for some­thing else she wouldn’t get.

“Then she called me on a Fri­day and asked me to come in on a Satur­day when no one else was com­ing in. But she had a feel­ing about some­thing. She put me on tape for ‘Su­per­bad,’ which ended up be­ing my first movie.” That was 2007. The en­su­ing high­school com­edy “Easy A” (2010) be­came a break­through. Who can for­get the hi­lar­i­ous “Pock­et­ful of Sun­shine” birth­day card mon­tage? Clearly a num­ber of peo­ple couldn’t, be­cause for a spell Stone got a lot of “Hey, aren’t you the Easy A girl?” com­ments, as Van­ity Fair once noted.

In 2015, she was nom­i­nated for a best sup­port­ing Os­car for her role as Michael Keaton’s daugh­ter in “Bird­man or (The Un­ex­pected Virtue of Ig­no­rance).” Last spring, she ap­peared on Broad­way as the ex-pat singer Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” on Broad­way. “Ms. Stone, in a scin­til­lat­ing Broad­way de­but, brings a heady whiff of the gin-soaked des­per­a­tion of that decade to her por­trayal of an am­bi­tious, hard-par­ty­ing and not very tal­ented singer in Weimar Ber­lin,” wrote Ben Brant­ley in The New York Times.

The char­ac­ter Mia re­mains a special case. An early scene in “La La Land” finds her vi­va­ciously tor­ment­ing a self-se­ri­ous key­boardist at a sum­mer­time party. Stone is funny, to be sure. But in this tale, she’s also ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing (with Golden Age lu­mi­nos­ity) the wrecked ex­pres­sion of a woman whose beloved has just dou­bled-down on an un­kind com­ment. Ryan Gosling stars op­po­site Stone as Se­bas­tian, a young man with an old jazz man’s soul. His am­bi­tion: to open a jazz club. Al­though Mia and Se­bas­tian make a cou­ple for the ages, they meet any­thing but cute in the movie’s bravura open­ing. Mia’s sit­ting in her Prius, re­hears­ing lines for an au­di­tion. He’s popped a cas­sette of piano riffs into his vin­tage clunker’s tape deck. He honks. She flips him off. The land of the ti­tle is Los An­ge­les, of course, and a trade­mark traf­fic jam leads to an open­ing dance num­ber, chore­ographed by Mandy Moore, that is vivid and sur­real, yet your heart in­sists it could hap­pen. You know, pos­si­ble the way Gene Kelly slipped into song and dance in a down­pour, pos­si­ble the way a bunch of teenage toughs liv­ing on Man­hat­tan’s west side be­gan snap­ping their fin­gers and slid­ing across the sum­mer pave­ment. The movie’s fi­nal min­utes are just as ex­tra­or­di­nary. This is the third time Stone and Gosling have played ro­man­tic coun­ter­parts. In “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” her char­ac­ter throws Gosling’s smooth Lothario for an emo­tional loop. In “Gang­ster Squad,” she plays the red-tressed moll of king­pin Mickey Co­hen (Sean Penn) to Gosling’s cyn­i­cal and smit­ten cop­per. But the “La La Land” pair­ing is some­thing out of a by­gone era, yet thor­oughly mod­ern — which is what Chazelle hoped for. “She has this in­cred­i­ble Ca­role Lom­bard-, Katharine Hep­burn-kind of comic, old-Hol­ly­wood qual­ity to her act­ing that feels so fleet-footed and sparkling and charm­ing. All of which you need to carry a mu­si­cal,” said Chazelle. “But this was the kind of role that wound up be­ing, I think, very per­sonal for her, and was also a role that needed to — at a cer­tain part of the movie — get darker.”

“La La Land” is Chazelle’s third fea­ture. The leap in am­bi­tion and ex­e­cu­tion in each new film has been a lit­tle stag­ger­ing. “He’s in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate and clear on what he wants but also very open to col­lab­o­ra­tion,” said Stone of her direc­tor, whose first film, “Guy and Made­line on a Park Bench,” had its start as his Har­vard the­sis film. His sec­ond fea­ture was 2014’s in­die hit “Whiplash.” The tale of an as­pir­ing jazz drum­mer was nom­i­nated for five Os­cars and won three, in­clud­ing one for ac­tor J.K. Sim­mons. “He al­ways knew what he was mak­ing,” Stone said. “He opened up to Ryan and me so much, al­low­ing us to speak to him daily about shap­ing the char­ac­ters. But it re­mained the same vi­sion that he started with while still adapt­ing to his ac­tors and the peo­ple he’s work­ing with. It’s so rare that that hap­pens. You’re usu­ally adapt­ing to one per­son’s vi­sion — you suck it up or the wheels can come off and it can turn into a bunch of voices. He’s a great cap­tain of the ship.” “La La Land” has started to amass year-end crit­ics group nods. It’s sure to vie for the best pic­ture Os­car. (Nom­i­na­tions will be an­nounced Jan. 24.)

Stone and Gosling’s cast­ing has proven to be a kind of kismet. Af­ter all, in 2008, when Chazelle first be­gan dreaming up his homage to Dream Factory mu­si­cals (as well as Jac­ques Demy’s “The Um­brel­las of Cher­bourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”), he had a dif­fer­ent pair in mind: Emma Wat­son and Miles Teller. The lat­ter pounded the drums in “Whiplash” and can cur­rently be seen bat­tling back from a ca­reer-end­ing car wreck in the box­ing drama “Bleed for This.” Yet Stone and Gosling are so de-lovely that it’s hard to imag­ine “La La Land” work­ing with any other duo. “It’s sort of like ‘Jaws,’ ” I sug­gested to Chazelle. The ocean­side thriller be­came fa­mously sus­pense­ful be­cause the me­chan­i­cal shark that Steven Spiel­berg was count­ing on never quite worked they way he hoped. “I love that anal­ogy,” Chazelle replied, then turned to Stone. “Now I’ll al­ways think of you and Ryan as the bro­ken shark,” he said, and ex­plained the ref­er­ence. “Aww,, we’re the bro­ken shark,” she said with a dawn­ing, rather sly smile, fol­lowed by a big laugh. “How sweet. You’re my bro­ken shark.”

Dale Robinette, Lion­s­gate

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in “La La Land,” a mu­si­cal that is seem­ingly out of a by­gone Hol­ly­wood era.

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