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The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Movie Review

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

When flipping past channels in the early morning and coming across televangelists, there is a certain snake oil salesman feeling to a lot of them. With The Eyes of Tammy Faye, director Michael Showalter sought to take us behind-the-scenes of one of those programs. Depicting the lives of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the film offers a sympathetic portrait of the latter and what drew her in front of the camera. Jessica Chastain helps carry the film with her performance, as she displays Tammy Faye’s energy and vulnerabilities. Even with the occasional biopic conventions, the movie becomes a fascinating peek at the Christian television industry.

For the most part, The Eyes of Tammy Faye goes through her life chronologically, but there are moments when Showalter’s direction breaks up some of the familiar story elements. The first twenty minutes of the movie are a tad slow as we follow Tammy Faye’s early years and her meeting Jim Bakker. However, once they enter the television world, Abe Sylvia’s screenplay fleshes them out a little more. We see how their own differing views for how they use their religion plants the seeds for their eventual growing apart. While it’s uncertain how naïve she was to her husband’s doings, the film depicts her as just wanting to bring joy to viewers with her songs and personality.

The film does take a critical eye on the whole operation of televangelist television shows and the politics going on when the cameras are off. There’s almost a Caesar and Brutus-type relationship that forms between Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell that’s interesting to watch unfold. The film really belongs to Jessica Chastain, though. Buried under loads of makeup, she disappears into the role of Tammy Faye. When the script calls for her to be funny, she does well. Chastain also shows her skills at crying, whether she’s fighting with Bakker or pleading with her viewers.

Andrew Garfield also gives a solid performance as Jim Bakker, really capturing how slimy he is. The movie does devote a considerable amount of time to Tammy Faye’s drug addiction. It’s obviously an important part of her story, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of other biopics that depict that aspect of a person’s life. Reading up on the real person, it would have been nice to see more of her crusading for LGBTQ rights. A little bit of that appears in the film, but she gained so much support from the gay community for being one of the rare televangelists who wasn’t bigoted towards them, it’s surprising it’s not touched on more.

One would expect a director like Michael Showalter, who is primarily known for comedies, to take a completely satirical approach to this story. While the movie does lampoon those over-the-top Christian shows that beg viewers for money, the filmmakers are more interested in looking at what drew Tammy Faye to that world. It’s a part of the television industry that isn’t depicted too often with a straight lens, so it’s curious to go behind-the-scenes on those shows. Even though the script could have spiced things up a bit more in the narrative department, The Eyes of Tammy Faye still does the job of depicting the titular protagonist’s life.

Stefan Ellison

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