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BIn 2011, Jessica Chastain’s sudden ubiquity – from blinks and failures on the small screen to “oh her again” hits on the big screen – meant that doors that had previously been closed were now opening, a relative embarrassment of wealth for a brilliant actor in his thirties. While her three roles that year all played “The Woman,” they still showed promising versatility (an Oscar-nominated comedy woman in The Help, a thriller woman in Take Shelter, and a Terrence Malick wife in The Tree of Life, the most challenging of all brides) and thus, Chastain was propelled to the upper echelons of casting wish lists.

The following year, she raised her even higher with another Oscar nomination (for Zero Dark Thirty) and over the next decade, Chastain confidently tried her hand at everything from schlock horror (Mama, It, Crimson Peak), serious Oscar bait (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Molly’s Game, Miss Sloane), “high” multiplex fare (Interstellar, The Martian) and distinctly not High multiplex fare (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Ava). There was something impressive about his jack-of-all-trades strategy, but something less impressive about the work itself, never bad exactly but mostly missing, a series of broadcast errors clouding our memory. of his banner breaking year. Chastain, like Ryan Gosling, Charlize Theron, and Brad Pitt before her, often feels like a character actor trapped in the body of an A-List leader, an unnatural flag waiting to be hoisted.

This criminally untapped eccentricity surfaces with the uneven biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the story of “Televangelists Ken and Barbie,” which rose to fame in the late 1960s before falling into disgrace in the 1980s. Chastain is Tammy Faye, who went from a strict religious family to a marriage that took a more progressive view of Christianity, from the fear of God to the love of God. Her new husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) introduced her to an exciting world of ambition and industry, monetizing their faith as part of a growing new trend of preaching to the masses via the small screen. Tammy Faye’s (Cherry Jones) austere mother believed “that there is a limit to the love of God,” but they disagreed and their limitless worldview took them to the top before the scandal only drags them down.

In the movie, Jim is a familiar assemblage of red flags that Tammy Faye optimistically justifies and one of her smartest touches only ever shows us the crumbling of their world through her eyes (she’s in pretty much every scenes). But that’s one of the only interesting ideas from Big Sick director Michael Showalter and nurse writer Jackie Abe Sylvia, the majority of the film moves forward like a biopic in numbers, with edits of headlines. lazy. Showalter is never sure he’s fully relying on Tammy Faye’s inherent camp, and so the film is often too sober, too polite, when telling the story of someone so rooted in excess. It’s a relief that he’s not getting too much wrong on the other extreme (it’s not a fun punching exercise like, say, me, Tonya) but it still lacks a bit too much personality, despite how. point the protagonist breathes.

Chastain has no difficulty modulating the scream with the earth, fully engaging in Tammy Faye’s oversized and extravagant ham while realizing her genuine and well-meaning seriousness (she tried to introduce liberalism, including the acceptance of homosexuality, in a world of sectarianism). It’s a great performance at the top of the lungs, a gamble that will likely divide, and it’s easy to bristle over something so drastically transformative given the number of actors who have tried to do the same, fueled by thirst. of an Oscar. But Chastain sells it as something more touching than calculated mimicry, loosening layers that Sylvia’s script doesn’t always provide. There’s a less convincing twist of a misinterpreted Garfield, who never quite settles comfortably into the role, made even more glaring by Chastain’s excellent work.

The details of the Bakkers’ downfall, seen from afar by Tammy Faye, involve fraud and embezzlement, something the film never really challenges her about. Jim was the clear architect, but she was an increasingly involved prop, happily living a luxurious materialistic life, and the film is a little too obsessed with her lionization to fathom such darkness. It makes part of the fall from the final act a bit simplified, a bigger, more complicated picture replaced.

After the stereotypical montage of Fall from Grace, we move into the mid-’90s as Tammy Faye sifts through the remaining pieces of her shattered life. It’s a moving, more meditative stretch that sees Chastain doing some of his best work, as Tammy Faye’s most affected tics subside and the damage below becomes more noticeable. She sells it to the end, constantly surpassing what she’s been given and with whom she works with such vigor that the prospect of her focusing on more gnarled and weird characters in the future is a question that we should all be curious. Tammy Faye’s eyes may be focused everywhere, but our eyes remain focused directly on Chastain.


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