Saturday 22 October 2022

Movie Review: The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (2021)

A rise-and-fall drama, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is the biography of a woman who helped build an empire based on deceit.

In Minnesota of the 1950s, Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) comes from a poor religious family that never showed her any love. Nevertheless, she is bubbly and loves to help others. She meets the dashing Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at a religious college, and they get married. Jim has big ideas to become a wealthy traveling preacher, and Tammy contributes puppeteering to attract the kids.

Everything changes when Jim and Tammy land a late night television slot on the Christian Broadcasting Network run by influential evangelist Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds). Tammy insists on having a significant role on the show, and the couple build a huge fanbase, attracting the attention of powerful pastor Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio). Jim launches his own the Praise The Lord (PTL) Network and funds a lavish lifestyle through an endless stream of pledges. By the 1980s Jim and Tammy Faye are on top of the televangelical world, but trouble lurks ahead.

Portrayed in the media as a caricature with a penchant for frightening makeup, Tammy Faye was Jim Bakker's influential partner as they bilked the gullible through the crass commercialization of religion. The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is a partially successful attempt to find the woman behind the visage, with a focus on portraying Tammy Faye as a genuinely kind people person, tempering Jim's fire and fury towards homosexuals and steering him towards a God loves everyone message.

The film is a showcase for set designs, outfits from the 1950s to the 1990s, and a variety of hairstyles. Jessica Chastain dominates even as she disappears under layers of increasingly scary makeup, portraying Tammy's ups and downs across 35 years. Andrew Garfield is less convincing as Jim, never quite landing the required mix of charisma and connivance. Vincent D'Onofrio has fun bringing understated authority to the character of Jerry Falwell.

The screenplay by Abe Sylvia (based on a documentary with the same name from 2000) accentuates Tammy Faye's positive attributes, but conveniently turns away from her complicity in selling bunk to the uneducated then enjoying the proceeds. Despite 126 minutes of running time, the film never pauses to examine the damage caused by the Bakkers' virulent brand of snake oil, and only waves in passing at the alliance between evangelist leaders and conservative politics.

Elsewhere director Michael Showalter invades the backstages and bedrooms where a power couple start to come apart at the seams, her addiction to pills, oils, and creams giving him licence to exploit her dalliance for profit. Meanwhile she spots clues he may be engaged in a homosexual relationship, but his infamous affair is only obliquely mentioned. The Eyes Of Tammy Faye are good at what they see, but limited by selective focus.

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  1. This is probably as close to hagiography as Tammy Faye could have expected and far closer to it than she deserved. Was she misunderstood in some ways? Sure, but that doesn't mean that she deserves a great deal of pity.

    1. It's well made, but it's also one of those biographies about the wrong person, skipping plenty of inconvenient context.


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