Let’s be honest, the world of televangelists is fascinating. With their dramatic, glitzy, and glamorous telethons interlaced with scripture, it is hard not to be curious about these broadcasters. Michael Showalter’s biopic, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which follows the story of the larger-than-life Christian host Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain), confidently leans into that captivating world while also stripping it bare in this thoroughly entertaining and campy feature.
A detailed character profile, the film unpacks Tammy’s career and offers insight into her and her husband’s juicy interpersonal dramas and downfall. Based on the 2000 documentary of the same name – by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato – The Eyes of Tammy Faye centres on Tammy Bakker, a televangelist well known in the celebrity Christian sphere in the ’80s, especially in her advocacy for the LGBTQ community and AIDS patients.
The film sees the start of her journey unfold, showing her college days in the ’60s, where she meets and falls in love with a hilariously awkward man called Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). After a quick marriage, the two passionate Christians set out to spread the word of God while also looking for a way to make some serious cash.
The couple finally gets their big break and rise to fame through the ’70s and ’80s after being spotted by the Christian Broadcasting Network. However, things begin to fall apart as scandals, disgruntled ministers, and crime come into the picture.
Ultimately Tammy must fight for her career while also coping with the internal pressure of her strained marriage and swaying public opinion. At its heart, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a deep dive into Tammy’s emotional journey through the rise and fall of her showbiz star.
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Written by Abe Sylvia, the drama movie is a fun, at times heart-breaking, and charmingly multifaceted character study. Throughout the film’s runtime, the audience witnesses Tammy’s determination, dynamic and almost cartoony personality, and rollercoaster relationships unfold.
However, while elegantly capturing the inner arc of Tammy’s emotional state, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, at times, struggles to fully show the complete picture of the real-life figure or the bustling world outside of CBN’s studios that she impacted.
As is the case with most biopics, fitting in an entire life into a two-hour movie is at times too tall an order, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye’s script loses focus as it tries to convey her childhood, relationships, public image, and political beliefs. With all the time skips and drama thrown into the mix, the movie feels spread thin as it tries to unpack the emotional journey of the woman and her iconic pro LGBTQ stance in the televised Christian community.
There is a strong feeling of the film being detached from the outside world around CBN. Despite hinting towards political turmoil and alluding to prejudices LGBTQ people face, we never fully see the people or their lives that made Tammy’s public support so powerful as the film constantly suggests. Sure we see her fight for love, but we see her do so without ever encountering the cause directly outside of her TV show.
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On top of this, the film skirts around the issue of corruption in the family and the embezzlement of millions of patrons’ dollars. In this way, it sometimes feels as if the redemptive quality the film grants Tammy Faye is undeserved, and at times the political activism hinted at in the movie’s script is an afterthought.
However, despite the script being a tad bit overstuffed, Tammy is an intriguing character whose personal story is easy to invest in. Much like other recent films examining real-life public female figures such as Pablo Larrain’s feature Spencer, here we see the life of a woman who must navigate the patriarchal and misogynistic public eye in a pre #MeToo era of the world.
Chastain manages to capture the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability as she portrays Tammy fighting to achieve her dreams and smiling through the judgments of society who criticize her age, gender, and sex life.
Similarly, Andrew Garfield and Chastain’s on-screen chemistry screams of authenticity, showing the audience a realistic couple’s trials and tribulations after years of marriage, as well as the hilarious awkward developments of two painfully optimistic Christians indulging in love.
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With charming and punchy dialogue, the pacing of The Eyes of Tammy Faye hardly falters. Along with Sylvia’s clever interpersonal writing, the cinematography and editing work makes this an easy watch. The sets are detailed, and the use of lighting and make-up perfectly complement that bright but fake world that the Bakker couple finds themselves in.
In short, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a delight that, much like the complex woman whose story it tells, will never leave you bored. There is humour, heartbreak, betrayal, and all the glitz and glamour of showbiz to keep you constantly entertained.
Although there may have been a lack of political urgency and more detailed context for the LGBTQ community, The Eyes of Tammy Faye still manages to successfully craft an enjoyable film about a woman who loved love and sought out everyone’s unconditionally.
Eyes of Tammy Faye review
A surprising and thoroughly entertaining biopic, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, will never leave you bored.