Tammy Faye, Tonya Harding and the Rise of Rehabilitation Cinema in Pictures

The new cinema Tammy Faye’s eyes opens up to her main character in the hair and makeup chair, preparing for an appearance on camera. The extreme close-up reveals how well makeup televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker already has by the time she arrives on set, a fact confirmed by an exchange with the stylist, who notices that she has a look of her own. Her hairstyle was so shocked by the hairspray it looks like you could knock it over, her skin tone is hidden under a dense glaze of foundation and rouge, and her lids have been tattooed with a permanent liner. To us, she’s a beautifully cheesy parody of ’80s glamor, and by her own estimate, she looks like a god-fearing Vanna White. Either way, that’s how her fans know her, and so that’s how they expect to see her, she explains. She has an outward profile and knows it, an image she is so attached to that she has chosen to stop washing it away in her private moments.

The biopic directed by Michael Showalter, directed further by producer and star Jessica Chastain, exists to expose the woman under tailoring and cosmetics. At the height of her relevance, the media laughed at her for her ostentatious taste, insanely bad disco hymns, and possible fraud lawsuits that made her and her husband Jim avid scammers. honest Christians from their paychecks. Abe Sylvia’s screenplay instead emphasizes the noblest and most defensible aspects of Tammy Faye’s story, such as her sincere desire to spread the love of the Almighty and her defense of the gay community. at the height of the AIDS epidemic. She wasn’t that horrible, we made sure, just too malleable, enslaved to a husband who used her for his own stingy ends.

After more than a decade stuck in development hell, Chastain’s passion project comes amid a wave of like-minded films extending PR re-education to numbers they say have been slandered. , mocked or wrongly minimized. The You are wrongification of the cinematic character play is in full swing, Hollywood following the lead of a popular podcast dedicated to rewriting the narrative about people and events misunderstood in our collective memory. In a pair of typical episodes, Lorena Bobbitt and bubble-headed hottie Anna Nicole Smith were reassessed as a provocative survivor of abuse and a self-taught icon of Americana, respectively. (Tammy Faye shared an article with Jessica Hahn, who accused Jim Bakker of rape in 1987.) Now, films have embraced this critical, often feminist, realignment of empathies. But while some examples simplify the moral calculation involved in black and white, others get lost in their shades of gray.

Britney Spears’ recent account of real life on television and dealing with tabloids, to name just one example, has been repeated time and time again in creative terms on the big screen. These films are careful to consider the humanity of late-night punchlines, looking beyond the cover to locate something worthy of our compassion. It usually depends on realigning our notion of a previously under-examined dimension to a scandal; me Tonya, her awards season success perhaps the trigger for this trend, highlighted the class disparity that has made America too eager to make figure skater Tonya Harding the knee-brace villain of rival Nancy Harding. Directed by Craig Gillespie (who would later find the softer side of a Dalmatian serial killer with Cruel), the film also blamed the lion’s share of the blame on a malicious husband after he tried to pass his misdeeds on to his wife.

An unbalanced power dynamic is a constant throughout much of this mini-canon, challenging viewers to place perpetrator-victim dichotomies in new contexts. 2019 Seberg chronicled the conflict between French film icon Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) and the FBI in the 1960s and 1970s, during which one of the most powerful intelligence agencies on the planet bugged, defamed and sabotaged an ordinary citizen until she was sent to an early grave. Charlie says Also flips the script on the Manson Girls, their dark deeds suggested as the result of brainwashing and manipulating an almost hypnotically influential man. In Lucie in the sky, Natalie Portman plays Lisa “Diaper Astronaut” Nowak as a motivated career woman, defeated by her abusive attraction to another NASA employee who doesn’t think about forming an affair with her before putting her aside for a more woman. young. In each case, the main character poses as a victim of the circumstances, with their dismal actions being a direct response to a world stacked against them, usually by the opposite sex.

When the stakes drop below the life or death line, this narrative form turns into an exercise in respect and dignity, focused on basic decency rather than righteousness. OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky had their chance in the court of public opinion with television’s first and third seasons. American crime story, which showed the personal toll of what the comedians thought was harmless teasing. In one memorable scene, Clark shows up in court with a stunning new perm, excited to start her makeover until she sees everyone watching and giggling. She is discouraged away from the paparazzi lenses, proof that there was still a vulnerable heart beneath the questionable hairstyle. Chastain did Molly’s game with Aaron Sorkin for the same reasons, in the hope of uncovering the deteriorated sense of ethics underlying the choices made by “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom. In classic Sorkinese, a forensic investigation into his illegal gambling network culminates with defense attorney Idris Elba saying his client should be put on a box of Wheaties instead of being cross-examined.

There is a ready-made depth to this model of drama, defined by its belief that there is more to the average person than there seems. A character study can either seek out glimmers of goodness in the seemingly contemptible, or detect soul deficiencies in the esteemed. It’s no accident that many male biopics take the latter route, probing the cracks of struggling geniuses. Both sides function as a reaction to mainstream societal ideas about gender that posterity has been mean to women while they have endless patience for men. In this redressing of the scales, however, there is a lot of room for error. Tammy Faye’s eyes ultimately swaps a simplistic judgment for its opposite, too willing to exonerate her subject of her complicity in a corrupt empire and broadly accept her claim that she didn’t even know how much money they had, let alone where it was. was coming. me Tonya lost his footing in his scattered offerings of ambiguity and ended up poking fun at the same Harding-as-bumpkin character he tried to debunk.

Image Rehab Cinema’s easy sale means that it will be available for a while, and likely in increasing numbers. Tempting roles with an accessible sense of depth attract renowned stars of the caliber of Chastain, Portman and Stewart. (This latest actress will be doing something in that vein again in the fall with the Princess Diana feature film. Spencer.) The name recognition factor extends to well-known and beloved celebrities portrayed with unprecedented candor and intimacy, a market demand so great that studios have figured out how to satisfy it with fictional creations like Maleficent and Bad. And yet, more than anything, this preponderance of generous reassessments is driven by an innate human ethical desire over the messy contradictions that make up a person. The need to separate right from wrong and inflict consequences has never been greater, but in the real world and on screen, these procedures do not have the rigor of a court. They make imperfect decisions, leaving us to play the role of juror.

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