Plot Summary: THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE is an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. In the 1970s and 80s, Tammy Faye and her husband, Jim Bakker, rose from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, and were revered for their message of love, acceptance and prosperity. Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, it wasn’t long before financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire.
Looking back, Tammy Faye was probably one of the stranger icons of the ‘80s and’90s. Director Michael Showalter is tasked with peeling back the layers of makeup and the press driven caricature to showcase an in-depth character study. But did he succeed in telling a richly drawn bio-pic? For the most part, yes. Interestingly, Showalter follows a music-bio-pic framework (though Faye was a singer with albums, so maybe that’s not a huge stretch). It starts in the present (which is 1994), before going before the public, then it flashes back to her childhood in the fifties which sets up her troubled history with her mother. Then we move forward to her meeting Jim Bakker, their break in television, etc. This framework is frankly kind of tiring, but it’s an easy and firmly established way to tell a person’s life story. The highs and lows are, again, probably pretty predictable: drug abuse, traumatic family issues, the intoxicating raise and utterly heartbreaking fall. Though I will say that it has some above-avenge writing to help keep it from becoming a snore-fest.
I actually felt like the more interesting aspect is how the film paints Jim Bakker. I assumed he was going to be the movies defacto-bad guy, a shady con man that believed in money over everything else. Rather, it paints Jim as a complicated man that was ultimately a good person who just made some very bad choices. Jerry Falwell Sr on the other hand (played with a nice subtly by Vincent D’Onofrio) is the real villain who is petty, jealous and ultimately vengeful of the Bakkers. Caught in the center is Tammy who is shown as an innocent girl from very humble roots that is literally thrust into the public and given it all just to have it taken away seemingly just as quickly. Even the unsupportive mother seems to have somewhat of a redemptive arc. Again, even if it never strays far from its biopic format, I couldn’t help but feel it told an engaging story that was paced well. Tammy Faye herself is such a fascinating and engaging figure that you cannot help but be transfixed for the 120 minutes of runtime. In fact, I thought we could have used a better epilogue to her story post-Bakker breakup. I also love how the movie doesn’t shy away from Tammy Faye and her activism and icon status within the LGBTQ+ community. In a very moving scene, we see her interview an AIDS patient (which has a payoff that will make you emotional if you have any kind of feelings). Its also heavily implied that Jim himself was a deeply closeted man. I’m glad that they realized that the LGBTQ+ community was and remains an important part of Tammy’s story and lasting legacy in pop culture.
The glue or rather Aqua Net that holds this movie together is of course the cast. Holy crap! Jessica Chastain gives what is easily an Oscar worthy performance. These days, it is considered the norm for an actor to completely disappear into a role when playing a famous or historical person. Some work, but in a lot of cases, it just doesn’t. However, I totally lost the actor Chastain and I believed that Tammy was right up there on the silver screen in all her vivacious glory. It is at times damned uncanny to the point its almost eerie. I also respect the fact that the Chastain found a perfectly comfortable spot in terms of how big to take her. The end result is a nuanced performance that is filled with range, and thankfully is never a cheap SNL parody. The same can be said for Andrew Garfield. Whilst I feel like Garfield’s aged up makeup is, shall we say less convincing at times, his fantastic performance shines through. Though obviously not as splashy as Chastain’s role Garfield takes moments and makes them his own. The film also has a fantastic supporting cast including Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio and Gabriel Olds.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is frankly a pretty standard bio-pic in terms of structure and plot beats. But it’s writing is solid enough to make for an engaging two-hour film rollercoaster of emotions. Not to mention being utterly spellbound by its lead performers. It might just lead to some mascara running by its finale.My Original Review Posted HERE for Geek Vibes Nation