The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Based on a 2000 documentary by the same name, Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) attempts to bring to the limelight the life of Tammy Faye Bakker in his latest film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” Yes, there’s comedy. Even more so, there is drama.
As a young girl (Chandler Head), Tammy Faye was drawn into the church, the product of a troubled marriage, her views were different than her mother’s (played by the brilliant Cherry Jones) and the church in general. She was meant to offer her divine gifts in another fashion and to go her own way.
The adult Tammy Faye follows her path toward divinity when she meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) where they challenge professors and begin a downward spiral together. Jim has the brains, but lacked compassion where greed came to play – he wanted to be on television and Tammy Faye wanted to be in the limelight.
Jessica Chastain is sublime as Tammy Faye, giving an almost drag-type performance, heavily made up, but not necessarily fake in her efforts to bring comfort to the masses. Her singing voice is sensational and if that were the mark of the film, I’d be happy with the final product.
The challenge with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is that its movements are surface-level only; Showalter and screenwriter Abe Sylvia barely scratch the surface of her story by focusing too much on the moments in her life, rather than her life itself. At the risk of repeating myself, I could be the cliché critic and cite Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame” quote. However, the script makes it abundantly clear that she had more than fifteen minutes and that there was room to make Tammy Faye’s story much, much deeper.
Admittedly, I got lost in Chastain’s eyes and not necessarily Tammy Faye’s, as convincing as the performance was in the film. Several moments of puppetry dot the film, where we see Tammy Faye and Jim in their respective elements. The script makes it clear that this is how they communicated with each other, with respect and on which a solid foundation of marriage could be built.
Instead, with his “business sense” (and he was a successful entrepreneur), the overambitious televangelist hid behind his church to expand while attracting the attention of Reverend Jim Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds), who were trying the protect the establishment from crumbling, especially during the Republican years in the White House, and their combined contingent of voters.
Neither Tammy Faye nor Jim was faithful to each other either; Tammy Faye badly wanted to record her music and Jim just wanted to be loved in his own way. The film is suggestive about who Jim had relations with outside of wedlock, which was their ultimate downfall.
Garfield as Jim Bakker is fine. He has a classic look about him that plays into the advancing years, but his range wasn’t entirely enough for the more boisterous moments in the film and his character was underwritten.
The supporting cast is where this cast shines, namely, Cherry Jones who silently berates and then comes to support her daughter gives a very stoic performance, a bedrock of true Christian fundamentals. Even though his physical presence in the film is small, Vincent D’Onofrio is larger than life as Jerry Falwell, giving Falwell a Michael Corleone-type performance.
As ambitious as Jim Bakker was, so too is “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – with an overemphasis on the smaller moments, the troubled Tammy Faye, the more the film stumbles to tell its story.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” didn’t sit well with me, and the more I mull over it, the more I realize that a) I didn’t really know who Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker were other than knowing of them from the news when I was a kid and as a teenager, and b) there was a real opportunity to focus on who Tammy Faye was, especially as a performer. She enjoyed living in the limelight and that’s all she really wanted, was to spread her good Word to the masses.
And Chastain’s performance achieved that even at the expense of the rest of the story.
- The Eyes of Tammy Faye