Directed by: Michael Showalter
Premise: A biopic about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain). In the 1970s and 80s, Tammy Faye and her husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) created a Christian broadcasting empire that eventually came crashing down amid fraud and sex scandals.
What Works: The Eyes of Tammy Faye tells a familiar show business cautionary tale with showmanship and energy and humor. Filmmaker Michael Showalter presents the story of the Bakkers with some style and a comic flair that suits the film’s subject matter. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is admirably cinematic in the way it conveys the subtext of its scenes. There’s a sequence early on in which the Bakkers attend a party and the guests have sex segregated themselves with the men sitting apart and talking business, religion, and politics. Tammy Faye forces her way into the men’s conversation and the filmmakers stage moments like this in ways that make the subtext unmissable but without being too obvious about it. The centerpiece of the film is Jessica Chastain’s transformation into Tammy Faye Bakker. Chastain disappears under heavy prosthetic work and a commitment to the role. She’s especially impressive as a vocalist. Tammy Faye Bakker had a unique voice and the role requires Chastain to sing with that accent and she nails it.
What Doesn’t: While Jessica Chastain’s performance is impressive, many of the other characters come across as caricatures. Admittedly, the performances are tough to judge because in real life the Bakkers presented themselves in a cartoonish way. But Andrew Garfield’s performance in particular comes across artificial. He acts the same in private as he does in public and Garfield comes across like he’s in a Saturday Night Live sketch. What The Eyes of Tammy Faye shows us about the Bakkers and the televangelism industry of the 1970s and 80s is not especially revelatory. The fraud and spiritual rot are well known. The movie seeks to rehabilitate Tammy Faye as an ignorant bystander who was unaware of her husband’s fraud. This is not a compelling or convincing argument. The most interesting aspect of the movie is Tammy Faye’s life after her fall from grace. She became a gay icon in part because Tammy Faye reached out to homosexuals and other groups who were demonized by her husband and other evangelical leaders. Unfortunately, not much is done with this aspect of the movie and most of the picture remains within the bounds of a familiar show business cautionary tale.
Bottom Line: The Eyes of Tammy Faye entertains and Jessica Chastain is impressive in the title role. But the film marginalizes the most interesting aspects of Tammy Faye Bakker’s life and adds little to our understanding of who she was.
Episode: #871 (October 3, 2021)