Feminists, homosexuals, and the liberal agenda. Oh my! The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a remarkably baffling biopic that is sure to capture viewers instantly. With a stunningly breezy runtime of 126 minutes, director Michael Showalter cruises down memory lane with the audience. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’ll be easy to catch up with what you’re about to witness. The film starts off with footage of reports of the scandalous events that involved both Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield).
An adaptation of the 2000 documentary of the same name, the film follows Tammy Faye as a central figure. From an early age, she has an eye for theatrics and flare. The daughter of a devout woman as well as the only child of a failed marriage, Faye cannot attend church services. That is until the Lord moves through her, and people regard her as a miraculous daughter of the faith.
From there on out it jumps over to her college years where she meets her husband Jim Bakker. Their courtship is equal parts surprisingly charming and a little odd. Faye’s apparent naivety, though endearing, is anxiety-inducing as she quickly falls for Bakker. Garfield’s depiction takes the shape of a smooth-talking that knows what he wants and how to get it. Essentially, he feels like a con man from the getgo.
Garfield played a particularly good role as the televangelist superstar. Some have been quick to brush off his performance, but it was eye-catching to be able to watch someone play manipulation with subtlety. The movie never makes him out to be a mustache-twirling villain type, but many will be able to see past his smile. Much like a performer, Baker moves about each scene as though he stands waiting for applause.
Then of course there is the showstopping and show-stealing performance by Chastain. No stranger to praise for her acting chops, it is one of those cinematic moments where you sit down in the theater, the film starts, and you know you’re in good hands. Chastain disappears, and instead, it’s Tammy Faye on the screen. The strongest moments of Chastain’s performance were the quiet ones. The ones where Tammy Faye had to fend for herself against her own thoughts and the opinions of others.
Perfect for fans of 2017’s I, Tonya, and much like that film, you don’t have to agree with anything presented. However, there is a sort of respect for Tammy Faye in the film. Her world was very much a boys club, and she managed to take up space. Literally. She stood firm with her beliefs that God loves all his children including homosexuals in the face of men with more power than they deserved. “He doesn’t make junk,” she recounts.
However, it doesn’t fully criticize the hypocrisy of many of the people portrayed. Those like Jerry Fallwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) are made out to be the antagonists much like Jim Bakker – and to an extent even more – but the film isn’t about that. It is about a woman that was overwhelmed by faith. Faith in God, in people, and in herself.
It brushes off the criticism it presents because it is through Faye’s perspective. The greediness and the hypocrisy of those that used devotion as a weapon for their own gain instead become subtext. Because as the film would have it, Tammy Faye was merely another victim.
There has always been a terrible need to humiliate women publicly. Tammy Faye was no stranger to that. That being said, to use a woman that partook in the manipulation of viewers for the own personal gain of religious vultures, while unintentional on her part according to the film, seemed unsavory. Then the very final moments are decorated with American patriotism. It forces the inquisitive viewer to ask themself, what are they really trying to say with this piece? While off-putting as the slight touch of American propaganda may be, it is not enough to ruin the experience.
All in all, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a must-watch. There is a lot to be said and a lot to discuss. Many will enjoy it for what it is, be it an entertaining biopic or a potential awards season darling. The performances are enough to leave you delighted at most. – Josie Meléndez
The film will be available in theaters on September 17, 2021.
It stars Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, and Vincent D’Onofrio.