‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Might Convert Oscar Voters to the Church of Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield

Premiering at TIFF, can the Searchlight Pictures comical biopic follow in the footsteps of "I, Tonya"?

The Eyes of Tammy Faye -
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Oscars voters have always loved seeing actors whose startling physical transformations come after countless hours in the makeup chair.

After Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”) and Charlize Theron (“Monster”) won Oscars for their impressively-altered looks, Jessica Chastain could be on a similar path for her role as the media-loving televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in Michael Showalter’s “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” Following a world bow at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Searchlight Pictures dramedy, echoing previous Oscar embraces such as “I, Tonya,” could make Chastain a contender for her third nomination, and could bring in a few other notices if campaigned correctly.

Chastain’s previous Oscar noms came in supporting actress for “The Help” (2011) and actress for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). She also serves as one of the producers for the film, along with Kelly Carmichael, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane. While “Tammy Faye” could prove to be more divisive with critics and awards voters, her campy, fun-loving turn could appeal to those Academy members who tend to fall for bombastic and transformative performances, no matter the critical reception (i.e., Glenn Close in “Hillbilly Elegy”). Admittedly, the film is batshit crazy and is tonally all over the map, which could make it a longshot for scribe Abe Sylvia’s screenplay chances.

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Could Andrew Garfield’s Jim Bakker role, with his surprisingly effective southern drawl, accompany a Chastain nomination? Gracing the cover of this week’s Variety issue, the 38-year-old is embarking upon one of his biggest years yet. He started the year off in Gia Coppola’s indie “Mainstream” as Link, then has “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and he also plays composer and playwright Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut “tick, tick…Boom!” (also a maybe or maybe not role in “Spider-Man: No Way Home?”)

Early whispers are positive for his role in Miranda’s Netflix musical, suggesting he could factor into an already very competitive best actor race that includes Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog“), Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano“) and Will Smith (“King Richard“). If he manages to make the cut with a likely supporting campaign from Searchlight, he could join an elite list of 12 actors to receive two acting nominations in the same year in the last 93 years.

  • 1938: Fay Bainter – “White Banners” and “Jezebel” (won)
  • 1942: Teresa Wright – “The Pride of the Yankees” and “Mrs. Miniver” (won)
  • 1944: Barry Fitzgerald – “Going My Way” (won in supporting; the only instance of an actor nominated in two categories for the same role)
  • 1982: Jessica Lange – “Frances” and “Tootsie” (won)
  • 1988: Sigourney Weaver – “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Working Girl”
  • 1992: Al Pacino – “Scent of a Woman” (won) and “Glengarry Glen Ross”
  • 1993: Holly Hunter – “The Piano” (won) and “The Firm”
  • 1993: Emma Thompson – “The Remains of the Day” and “In the Name of the Father”
  • 2002: Julianne Moore – “Far from Heaven” and “The Hours”
  • 2004: Jamie Foxx – “Ray” (won) and “Collateral”
  • 2007: Cate Blanchett – “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “I’m Not There”
  • 2019: Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story” and “Jojo Rabbit”

No stranger to the awards circuit, Garfield received critical acclaim for his role as Eduardo Saverin in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (2010), for which he received noms from BAFTA, Critics Choice and the Golden Globes, ultimately coming up short at the Oscars in favor of John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”). After his brief stint in the “Spider-Man” franchise, he got back in the awards game for his turns as the Catholic priest Rodrigues in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “Silence” (2016) and as the conscientious objector Desmond Doss in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016), for which he received his first Oscar nomination for best actor.

With three Emmys and two Tony Awards, Cherry Jones is one of the great character actresses who hasn’t received her due despite nearly 30 film credits, working with filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Jodie Foster, Terrence Malick and Rodrigo García. As Tammy’s mother Rachel, Jones’ emotional arc could garner an actor’s branch response that worked for past nominees like Ruby Dee (“American Gangster”).

Recognition from the guilds could come for the costumes by Mitchell Travers and production and set decorations by Laura Fox and Barbee S. Livingston. Still, the translation to the Oscars might be a bit more complicated. The Academy loves to reward “most” rather than “best.” So while Garfield’s skin still doesn’t seem like it can absorb aging makeup yet (he had the same issue in “Silence”) and Chastain’s exaggerated rectangular chin structure will be a hot topic of discussion, the Academy makeup branch members could still shortlist the film for their bakeoff in December. This category has often partnered up with best actress, for films including “The Iron Lady” and “La Vie en Rose.” There should also be a consideration for the whimsical score from Theodore Shapiro, who is overdue for Academy love after aural beats in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Tropic Thunder.”

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” opens in theaters on Sept. 17.

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