The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” however, it’s going to be tough not to worship at the altar of Jessica Chastain throughout this Oscar season.
Directed by Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”), the biopic (★★★½ out of four; rated R; in theaters Friday) is definitely worth several hallelujahs as it follows the rise and fall of televangelist couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. They created the world’s largest religious broadcasting network in the 1970s and ‘80s and had it all undone by shady business dealings, sex scandals and conniving, powerful peers.
Entertaining and surprisingly funny given the subject matter, the movie’s also an exquisitely acted affair paced by Chastain (who also produces), turning in a career-best effort as the complex Tammy Faye. With the actress’ caring touch, the TV personality and LGBTQ icon is treated with respect as a flawed but loving woman rather than the tabloid laughingstock with over-the-top eyelashes and clownish makeup some might remember.
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The film follows Tammy Faye’s upbringing in Minnesota, charting her path from a 10-year-old believer (Chandler Head) discouraged from attending church because she was a child of divorce to the devout chipmunk-cheeked young woman (Chastain) who falls for awkwardly charismatic Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at a Midwestern bible college. They quickly get married – much to the chagrin of Tammy Faye’s mom (Cherry Jones) – and head out on the road as traveling preachers, where they meet the influential Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and gain a TV following: Tammy Faye entertains kids with her signature puppet show, while Jim hosts the Johnny Carson-inspired talk show “The 700 Club.”
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An immediate best actress contender (if not front-runner), Chastain lends an exuberance to Tammy Faye that’s infectious – even as she sings peppy gospel numbers in glittery ‘80s wear. And as the character’s faith is tested in various ways and an Ativan problem arises alongside her Diet Coke addiction, the actress is transformed as well with gaudier makeup and wardrobe the more she struggles internally and her world falls apart.
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