Inspired by a 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a biographical drama about real-life American televangelists, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The movie follows the story of the Bakkers as they progress from traveling preachers to hugely successful television stars, and details what happens to them along the way.
The movie starts to build momentum in 1960 when Tammy Faye Grover meets Jim Bakker at college. Shortly after they meet, the deeply religious and incredibly smitten pair get married, and set out on a plan to spread the word of God.
Initially they travel around the US, reaching out to local communities by using puppet shows to entertain children and inform them of their Christian beliefs. But it’s not long before they catch the attention of Pat Robertson – the owner of the Christian Broadcasting Network – who offers them the opportunity to become the hosts of a children’s television show.
From here the Bakkers progress in the world of TV, eventually setting up their own platform via the PTL (Praise the Lord) network. Here they raise their profile considerably, largely through a show in which they continue to express their faith, while encouraging audiences to ‘pledge’ money to their cause.
But while their on-screen life appears to be a huge success, at least to their 20 million viewers that is, their personal life tells a different story. Behind the scenes, Jim and Tammy Faye’s relationship becomes strained, and more complicated, and this ultimately feeds back into their public persona.
As their relationship starts to sour, cracks form and secrets are exposed, and it’s not long before one of those secrets makes its way into the public domain. This brings the Bakker’s use of viewer ‘pledges’ into question, threatening their whole way of life.
Directed by Michael Showalter, The Eyes of Tammy Faye stars Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The movie arrives in UK cinemas on Friday, and is an interesting account of two people who become so indelibly linked to their faith, it shapes both their rise and their downfall.
Told across the course of multiple decades, the film shines the light on their beliefs and their work, highlighting both the good and bad in their story. There are moments in which people are helped because of their faith, and there are moments in which greed takes centre stage.
Their story is one of unison, and one of individual actions. It focuses on how the Bakkers operated as a married couple, choices they made on their own, and the strange world they built around themselves.
But while The Eyes of Tammy Faye is about both of the Bakkers, covering significant chunks of their married life, it is ultimately about one person in particular. The film is weighted more toward Tammy Faye, and her role within this controversial pairing.
And it is here in which this movie finds its brightest beacon: Jessica Chastain. The actor takes on the role of Tammy Faye throughout this movie, wearing increasing amounts of make-up to depict her advancing age, and her performance is something truly noteworthy.
If you watch this movie, regardless of whether you like the picture or not, I guarantee you will have something to say about Chastain. She is so committed to this role, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off her.
Plastered in prosthetics and layered in lacquer, Chastain is the driving force of this movie and the entire lynchpin by which the whole film hangs. Without her in the film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye would be less appealing, but with her, there is something of note.
Trying to bring a larger-than-life character to the screen can go either way, just look at Jared Leto’s abysmal performance in 2021’s House of Gucci, so taking on the role of Tammy Faye could have been a disaster for Chastain, but she nails it. It’s clear that she has thrown herself into the part, and at no point does she hold back, with the end result becoming a scene-stealing turn.
But it’s not just Chastain who brings her A-game to The Eyes of Tammy Faye, so too does Andrew Garfield, who takes on the role of her husband Jim. His performance sits comfortably alongside Chastain, giving her the support she needs, while also having enough wiggle room to do his own thing.
Garfield is always good value, no matter the movie, because a.) he’s a great actor, and b.) he always understands the assignment. He knows that his job in this movie is not to overshadow Chastain in any way, which is why his performance is so perfectly played, with his turn sitting just a hairbreadth under hers.
Working together, the pair manage to bring the Bakkers to life in a very believable way. This can’t have been an easy task, especially when taking on real-life characters who have been described as the “Ken and Barbie” of televangelists.
So, these two actors work wonders in this movie, and the supporting cast are good too. As for the rest of the film, it’s fine and ticks all the technical boxes.
Is the movie as good as those central performances though? No. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a decent movie, and one which held my attention throughout, but without Chastain and Garfield, I’m not convinced it would be anything particularly remarkable.
But let me reiterate, this is a decent movie. The Eyes of Tammy Faye isn’t amazing, but it is certainly watchable.
If I have one main criticism, it is that I don’t feel this film quite manages to dig up every little detail about the Bakkers, and there were aspects of Tammy Faye’s story I would have liked to have seen more of – in particular her support for the LGBTQ+ community. While this is highlighted a couple of times in the movie, particularly during a poignant scene where she interviews a man living with AIDS, I believe the film could have included a bit more about this.
Likewise, the film seems to end rather abruptly, with some on-screen text to fill out the final moments. Maybe a few extra minutes here would have added something else to the film.
But I’m not going to pick this movie apart too much, because I feel that for the most part it delivers. The two central performances provide the real thrust, and they manage to take the story over the line.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is enjoyable enough. If the trailer has caught your attention, or you are in any way intrigued by Chastain and Garfield, go check it out.
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