The Arlington was alight with the glow of stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as they were presented the 2017 SBIFF Outstanding Performers of the Year for their work in director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Drawing comparisons from director Roger Durling to “the classic love stories and Hollywood musicals” and the great couples of cinema past — Astaire and Rogers, Bogart and Bacall — Gosling and Stone’s onscreen chemistry translated onstage to the Arlington, as they joked and reflected on their careers alongside a retrospective of films such as Gosling’s The Believer and Stone’s Easy A.
Gosling said he took inspiration from the works of Busby Berkeley and his favorite actor, Gene Kelly, who was “tough and graceful, he could kick your ass — a beautiful balance of things.” La La Land was something of an artistic rebirth and a “crazy” step for Stone, who had strayed away from musicals at an early age, saying, “I stopped doing musicals when I was young, because I thought I couldn’t sing.” She remembers her film The Help as being a turning point, when audiences and casting directors took her more seriously as an actor.
The pair praised each other’s improvisatory and comedic abilities, remembering their instant teamwork as they improvised a conversation during the audition for Crazy, Stupid, Love — “We couldn’t shut up,” Stone recalled. Their cinematic companionship translated to the Arlington stage, as Gosling quipped about her work ethic, joking, “She can drink and work, and she seems drunk when she’s sober,” and Stone calling her screen partner “infuriating.” The two sparked and improvised a bit around Durling’s nasal snorts, to which the moderator occasionally played along.
Gosling downplayed the honorary accolades, calling it a “privilege” to be onstage but adding, “They’re just movies.” Durling commended the film’s less-than-golden depiction of Hollywood and the misery of “making it,” asking the audience: “How many of you have had your dreams crushed by the harsh reality of life?” He praised the light-hearted spirit of La La Land as important, calling their work “an antidote to the madness of the world today.”
However, one wishes Durling were able to separate his adoration from his speculation, as he seemed unable to calm his fan-boy questions (asking multiple times, essentially, “How does it feel to have worked on La La Land?”) or pick up Gosling and Stone’s comedic cues, as he tried to rein it in, telling Gosling, “Can we get serious?” Gosling and Stone at times appeared smothered. Though no one can fault the festival director for wanting to take the interviewer position — who wouldn’t? — his questions felt at times like either missed opportunities, misdirections, or a general mishandling of the situation. Though Gosling and Stone were in fine form, the night fell short of a fulfilling interview.