The Eyes Of Tammy Faye


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
"The real and the performed run so close together that, by the end of the film, it's not entirely clear if even Tammy knows where one ends and the other starts."

The fake and the genuine rub shoulders in a fascinating way in the prolific Michael Showalter's biopic of televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, a long-time passion project for star Jessica Chastain and based on the cult documentary of the same name. In fact the real and the performed run so close together that, by the end of the film, it's not entirely clear if even Tammy knows where one ends and the other starts.

Showalter's film, scripted by Abe Sylvia, follows Tammy and Jim from their first meeting at bible college, where there's already a larger than life quality to Jim (Andrew Garfield, laying on the charm and smarm) that the wide-eyed and, the film suggests, "true believer" naif Tammy (Chastain) finds irresistible. Shot in a deliberately kitsch fashion - which put me in mind of the over-the-top vibe of Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra - the film charts the pair as both spontaneous and, at least in Jim's case, calculating as they rise and rise, while prising cash from congregations trying to shore up treasure in heaven. Starting off with a kids' show - on the grounds that where children go parents will follow - they're soon the main draw on the Praise the Lord network.

Copy picture

If there's an air of the fake to the costuming and make-up but that is surely part of the point, given that Tammy, in particular, became a caricature of herself as the years wore on, although there are indications that she was at least as sinned against as sinning in some areas. She was a natural performer, breaking into song at just about every opportunity, and the film nudges at questions including whether she was performing innocence in the subsequent scandals that enveloped the pair or much more complicit.

There's also a sadness implied by the fact that she may have been part of a fiction she didn't even realise for a long time. Interestingly, and thanks to Chastain's big but nuanced performance, we're invited to have considerable sympathy for her, not least because she stood up against the prevailing winds of the patriarchy with regard to gay rights. Just two months after Ronald Reagan first used the term AIDS, she interviewed live on air gay pastor Steve Pieters who was living with HIV, a move that brought her into direct opposition with right-wing passtor Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose homophobic views were directly opposed to hers.

Overall, it's a bit hamstrung by the biopic structure, which means it almost inevitably skates over interesting side stories such as the link between the evangelist movement and Republicanism, but a fascinating watch nonetheless thanks to Chastain.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2022
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The Eyes Of Tammy Faye packshot
An intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.
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Director: Michael Showalter

Writer: Abe Sylvia, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Vincent D'Onofrio, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Sam Jaeger, Fredric Lehne, Randy Havens, Louis Cancelmi, Chandler Head, Gabriel Olds, Joe Ando-Hirsh, Jay Huguley, Coley Campany, Kevin J O'Connor, Keith D Dooley

Year: 2021

Runtime: 126 minutes

Country: Canada, US

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