The Eyes of Tammy Faye movie review (2021)


Chastain throws herself into Tammy Faye Bakker, the notorious wife of the king of televangelism, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). In a rather traditional biopic structure, Tammy Faye’s life unfolds from her childhood fascination with religion to her courtship with a young Jim. The Tammy Faye of Showalter’s film is outspoken and strident, daring to take a seat at a table with the men advising her husband on his growing career, much to the disdain of a conservative like Jerry Falwell (a glowering Vincent D’Onofrio). Showalter and Chastain play Tammy Faye as a pure soul, someone who believed in all of her causes and was surrounded by inferior men who consistently tried to dim her inner brightness.

Whether or not that’s true isn’t really an issue. I’m fine embracing the positive side of Tammy Faye, especially given her progressive beliefs about acceptance and homosexuality—Showalter recreates the famous interview with Steve Pieters that recognized the existence of AIDS at a time when no one in Tammy Faye’s profession was willing to do so, and it has undeniable emotional power. Chastain captures her as a constantly spinning firecracker, someone who people like Jim and Jerry knew how to use to reach a financially-driven fan base but couldn’t really comprehend. She was pure. When Chastain says, “I just want to love people,” she clearly believes it.

However, image rehabilitation for Tammy Faye Bakker only gets so far dramatically, and would have been better served in a richer, more ambitious film. Think of something like “I, Tonya,” a movie that also rehabs a very public figure but does so with wit and passion that’s lacking here. Too much of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” leans on make-up and costumes to tell its story, cutting together montages of “Prime Tammy Faye” like a highlight reel at a Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony. It all lacks in depth or dramatic purpose, something that’s enhanced by a truly thin representation of Bakker. Garfield is a very talented actor, but writer Abe Sylvia never bothers to get under the skin of Bakker. Was he a charlatan or a purist? He’s clearly a weak man, but he’s also kind of a blank slate here, the straight man to Tammy Faye’s passion, and he comes off as underwritten.

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