Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye - Review


Many awards vehicles have come and gone, each more stale than the last. Continually propping up a stellar leading performance that rises above a dull and tired story that audiences have seen a million times. Lately, those have seemed even more plentiful in the realm of Best Actress, where someone finds the tale of a famous woman from history and an actress due for awards recognition, slaps them together, and hopes for the best. However, The Eyes of Tammy Faye surprisingly isn’t that, offering more than just its actress to talk about.

In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Jim (Andrew Garfield), rise from humble beginnings to create the world's largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. Tammy Faye becomes legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

The draw of this particular biopic is without a doubt Jessica Chastain. There was never a question as to her talent, but as Tammy Faye, Chastain is on another level. From her squeaky Minnesota accent to the infamous makeup she wears almost constantly, Chastain transforms into this fascinating woman with ease. It’s a performance that’s hard to look away from because its so multi-faceted. Is she just the sweet innocent woman with no knowledge of the corruption in her midst? Or she a charismatic schemer, who is way smarter than she lets on? In many moments, Chastain makes it hard to tell. 

With all that being said, it does have all the traditional elements of a modern biopic. It’s not within the area of parody that many cross into, but it does hit many similar beats. From her traumatic childhood and her early days of finding her passion, to the inevitable rise and fall that comes in the films second and third acts. It would be so very tiresome if the filmmaking behind it all from Michael Showalter was any less than what it is. And while it’s not mind blowing by any stretch of the word, it elevates a film that could’ve easily been  

Showalter isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have a distinct style or look to his films. But he’s solid. And here, with The Eyes of Tammy Faye, that’s all that’s needed. Showalter knows he has a star at the center of this film, and lets her talents shine from start to finish. With a subject that’s so seemingly cut and dry, to treat the lead character with empathy while also condemning the actions themselves, is a delicate balancing act, one that The Eyes of Tammy Faye surprisingly pulls off. There’s communication in the framing, even if it’s ever so slightly, and the film does have a visual storytelling element because of it. Again, not expert filmmaking, but solid, and more than enough for this film in particular. 

The Eyes of Tammy Faye likely won’t make anyone’s top ten of the year, maybe not even top 20, but it’s a solid look at the life of a fascinating couple and the corruption that came with being a televangelist. Jessica Chastain is a marvel, making the best of a role that finally gives her a ton to work with. If she isn’t the frontrunner at the moment, she’s at least in the conversation and will be for the foreseeable future. 

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