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  • Writer's pictureJim Keller

Jessica Chastain Plays the Odds with The Eyes of Tammy Faye

A little more than a year ago is when I last posted to this site. I had said from the outset that I wasn’t sure what the site would become, but it was never my intention to abandon it entirely—chalk it up to the uncertainty of the election and the ongoing pandemic. Even though I didn’t post about it, I did follow the Oscar race closely, so let’s start by reviewing last year.

My top ten films of 2020: 1 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom/Promising Young Woman

2 Ammonite

3 Hillbilly Elegy

4 The Trial of the Chicago 7

5 Nomadland

6 Mangrove

7 The Prom

8 Minari

9 Driveways

10 The Father

My Oscar nomination predictions on Oscar eve for above the line categories:

My Oscar winner predictions in all categories:

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom / Anthony Hopkins - The Father

Best Actress: Viola Davis - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom / Frances McDormand - Nomadland

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya - Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman

Best Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland / The Father

Best Cinematography: Nomadland / Mank

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Best Editing: Sound of Metal

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: "Speak Now" - One Night in Miami / “Fight for You” - Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Animated Feature: Soul

Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You

Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher

Documentary Short: A Love Song for Latasha / Colette

International Feature: Another Round

Live Action Short: The Letter Room / Two Distant Strangers

Now that we have reviewed last year, let’s dive into this one.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing The Eyes of Tammy Faye and attended a Q&A afterwards with producer/actress Jessica Chastain and her producing partner Kelly Carmichael that was moderated by NYC drag queen and city council candidate Marti Gould Cummings. The film offers an intimate look behind the extraordinary rise, fall, and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) who rose to power in the 1970s along with her husband, Jim.

During the Q&A, Chastain described the film as a love bomb. She said she wanted to create the film to show the world that Tammy Faye was a selfless person who only wanted to be loved. In fact, if Bakker were alive, love is the one thing Chastain hopes she would feel from watching the film.

Above: Kelly Carmichael, Jessica Chastain, and Marti Gould Cummings at The Angelika Film Center, New York, NY, September 17, 2021 Photo: Author

Although many parts of Tammy Faye are humorous, that message of love shines through every frame. Fans of Chastain’s work may recognize a hint of her character Celia Foote (The Help) when she first appears as Tammy Faye in 1960 in the film, but before long the sweetness gives way to a young Minnesotan who wears her heart on her sleeve and finds herself falling for the man who would lift her up on eagle’s wings, only to let her down later with a thud: Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield).

Garfield holds his own and gives an impressive performance as Tammy Faye’s doomed other half, but Tammy Faye is first and foremost Chastain’s show. There are several scenes that evince emotion and give her the opportunity to show the true heart of Tammy Faye, including her 1985 televised interview with Steve Pieters, a gay pastor with AIDS, whom Tammy Faye uses her star power to humanize for the Praise the Lord network’s 20 million viewers as well as the inevitable showdown scene with her husband, depicted in the film’s trailer – but one example of Tammy Faye’s contribution to the LGBTQ+ community. As put by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the documentarians behind the film of the same name Tammy Faye was based on: “Homosexuality has often been demonized by the Christian community. At a time when people shrank from HIV and AIDS, Tammy was having none of it. She didn’t believe in labeling people. She understood the power of the camera to look into the eyes of people far and wide and share the truth.”

The trailer also depicts the amount of makeup Chastain had to put on for the role, which may be off-putting, and admittedly coupled with the more humorous elements of the film could spell disaster for the actress’s awards hopes. However, much like Renée Zellweger in Judy, Nicole Kidman in The Hours, and Charlize Theron in Monster, Chastain disappears into her character in such a way that you no longer feel you’re watching the actress on the screen. It’s also worth mentioning that Chastain had to sit for four hours in the makeup chair to complete Tammy Faye’s look.

Her transformation along with the range that Chastain shows, including singing all of Tammy Faye’s songs in the film, and her screen time, will likely propel her into one of the five slots for Best Actress. Many pundits also feel that she could even win, but it’s a bit too early for that conversation.

Verdict: Chastain’s love for, and devotion to, Tammy Faye is palpable, but outside of her powerhouse performance, the film lacks enough ebbs and flows to fully engage its audience.

Below are my predictions for Best Actress as they currently stand:

Best Actress: 1. Kristen Stewart - Spencer

2. Penélope Cruz - Parallel Mothers

3. Jessica Chastain - The Eyes of Tammy Faye

4. Frances McDormand - The Tragedy of Macbeth

5. Lady Gaga - House of Gucci Alternates:

Jennifer Hudson - Respect

Olivia Colman - The Lost Daughter

Catriona Balfe - Belfast

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