Photo | Fox Searchlight Pictures
As I came to terms with the lack of acting Oscars for my favorite movie of last year, “The Power of the Dog,” I figured I might as well check out the movie that got Jessica Chastain her Best Actress award, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” As is often the case with showy roles like this, the whole film seemed engineered to get her that little gold man, and her performance was often most noteworthy for the sheer level of transformation involved.
Even if you have a basic knowledge of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the notorious and notoriously tacky Christian power couple, this film fills in its heroine’s story. We see Tammy as a little girl, forbidden from attending church with her devout family because she is her mother’s child from her first marriage. I loved how Tammy’s inherent theatrical flair is established immediately when she goes to church anyways and upstages her protesting parents by speaking in tongues and wetting her pants. The line between wanting attention and truly feeling her Christian beliefs is a fascinating one that is teased out throughout the film.
Another element I found compelling was the chemistry between Tammy Faye and Jim, which is yucky to think about when we consider them as real people, but more palatable when it’s expressed by Chastain and Andrew Garfield. Tammy often convinces Jim to act by appealing to him sexually, and it’s an important dimension of their story.
The Bakkers’ outrageous brand of Christianity is tempting to make fun of and this story could have easily set them up as merely hucksters, but this movie is most interesting when it shows how the Bakkers fused their earthly desires and motives with their heavenly beliefs. I think this is particularly compelling for Bible Belt-dwelling viewers like us, for whom preachers like this are not necessarily exotic or particularly unusual.
This film also gives us Tammy as a feminist who literally drags a chair to a table full of men, and most significantly, as a compassionate advocate for gay rights. She was particularly vocal about HIV/AIDS at a time when the misunderstanding and hatred surrounding that disease was just brutal. Her story is full of dramatic reversals of fortune as she navigates scandals with her husband, but she is also shown with sympathy, as a woman who sincerely wanted to spread a message of love.
Tammy Faye is just the latest in Michael Showalter’s pantheon of fascinating women. Tammy Faye fits in with the wonderful protagonist of “Hello, My Name is Doris,” a passionate and deluded woman played so memorably by Sally Field. He is also one of the creators of the always fantastic and shockingly evolving television show “Search Party,” which subverts expectations continuously and has a complex female protagonist named Dory, a career-defining role for Alia Shawkat. Showalter seems to have a feeling for unexpected motivations and the dramatic way they can play out. To call these women underdogs just scratches the surface.
“Surface” is a very apt avenue for exploring Tammy Faye Bakker, since her spectacularly heavy makeup became her trademark. The film opens with an extreme close-up of her almost grotesquely augmented face, with permanent lip liner, eyebrows and more. Of these blatantly unnatural adornments, Tammy states, “This is who I am.”
My only quibble with this interesting and moving biopic is that I could too easily imagine Chastain, seeing her lovely face caked with foundation and festooned with false eyelashes, thinking, “DANG, this is going to win me my Oscar.” Of course, it did, and maybe that overt emotional manipulation is really just one more accurate and appropriate facet in her highly effective depiction of Tammy Faye.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is currently available to rent.
“CODA”: The winner of Best Picture at the Oscars is having a limited, one-week run at the Crescent Theater. Catch it beginning April 8, with daily showtimes at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Seventeen-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the sole hearing member of a deaf family — a CODA (child of deaf adults). Her life revolves around acting as an interpreter for her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur) and working on the family’s struggling fishing boat every day before school with her father and older brother (Daniel Durant). But when Ruby joins her high school’s choir club, she discovers a gift for singing and soon finds herself drawn to her duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Encouraged by her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez) to apply to a prestigious music school, Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family and the pursuit of her own dreams.
CODA is playing at The Crescent Theater.
New This Week:
“Ambulance”: In this breakneck thriller from director-producer Michael Bay, decorated veteran Will Sharp (Emmy-winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), desperate for money to cover his wife’s medical bills, asks for help from the one person he knows he shouldn’t — his adoptive brother, Danny (Oscar-nominee Jake Gyllenhaal). A charismatic career criminal, Danny instead offers him a score — the biggest bank heist in Los Angeles history: $32 million. With his wife’s survival on the line, Will can’t say no. But when their getaway goes spectacularly wrong, the desperate brothers hijack an ambulance with a wounded cop clinging to life and ace EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) onboard. In a high-speed pursuit that never stops, Will and Danny must evade a massive, citywide law enforcement response, keep their hostages alive and somehow try not to kill each other, all while executing the most insane escape L.A. has ever seen. All multiplex theater, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2”: After settling in Green Hills, Sonic is eager to prove he has what it takes to be a true hero. His test comes when Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) returns, this time with a new partner, Knuckles (Idris Elba), in search of an emerald that has the power to destroy civilizations. Sonic teams up with his own sidekick, Tails, and together they embark on a globe-trotting journey to find the emerald before it falls into the wrong hands. All multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
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