The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) is based on the 2000 documentary, of the same name, by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. This film explores the rise and fall of two infamous televangelists, Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield) and his wife Tammy Faye (played by Jessica Chastain), as they built their evangelical empire. As financial and marital issues began to strike the Bakker household, Tammy Faye and Jim must endure the storm of their PTL “partners”, fraud agencies, and fellow evangelicals who want to destroy the Bakker legacy. This overview of the life of Tammy Faye, famous for her eccentric makeup and love and acceptance for all people (famously for the LGBTQ+ and victims of AIDS), is a sure bid for early Oscar talks for Jessica Chastain’s performance.
The highlights of this film are in the amazing performances of Chastain and Garfield. Jessica Chastain completely transforms and embodies the late Tammy Faye—from the iconic vocal cadence and laugh, to the subtleties of her expressions and hokey colloquialisms. It is extremely early in this year’s Oscar season, but I would be absolutely shocked if Jessica Chastain did receive a nomination for her jaw-dropping performance. Andrew Garfield also did a fantastic job as Jim Bakker as he delivered the charisma and shadiness of the sleazy televangelist. Other notable performances in the film include Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye’s mother, Rachel Grover, and Vincent D’Onofrio as the Baptist televangelist, Jerry Falwell. Outside of the performances, the other obvious Oscar contender in this film is the make-up department as Chastain and Garfield are completely transformed.
My criticisms in the movie seem to line up with other critics, from what I’ve read, as the movie does not go much further than showing the surface of the tale of Tammy Faye. Like most biopics, this film has the very standard rise, fall, redemption plotline, and it only shows the events, not the ramifications for those events. For example, the film spends a lot of time talking about the PTL partners (the viewers and donors to The PTL Club, aka The Jim and Tammy Show), but it does not delve into what happened to all those people when they realized they were scammed. The rise and fall of the Bakker legacy had huge ramifications on the Christian world. With Tammy Faye talking about very adult things and showing support for all people on their show, even those who were and who still are persecuted by the Christian religion (including women, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community), the fall of Tammy Faye’s public persona brought increased taboo on adult topics in churches and further persecution to the groups Tammy Faye lifted up—especially with the rise of Jerry Falwell’s television presence that happened as a result of the Jim Bakker downfall. By focusing too much on the base storyline, the director (Michael Showalter) and writers (Abe Sylvia, Fenton Bailey, and Randy Barbato) focus too much on showing Tammy Faye as sympathetic and as a victim, and they do not emphasize the ramifications of Tammy Faye’s fall from grace.
Despite the overall shallowness of the film’s substance, the inherent likability of the Tammy Faye story and the performances in The Eyes of Tammy Faye are enough to garner a watch. As Tammy Faye is one of the few public Christian figures to show and represent what the Christian religion is supposed to be in terms of loving all, it is nice to see this kind of introspection into the darkness of some followers of the religion and how, after the public falling out of Tammy Faye, many of those stains on the Christian faith are still relevant and, unfortunately, very present today. Chastain keeps you completely enthralled throughout the film and elevates this film to great heights, and the other cast members deliver great performances as well. While I wish the film had a little more meat to chew on, I still very much enjoyed this film and cannot wait to see it again once it hits VOD and streaming.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse.
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