The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio,
“I’m more dramatic than people like me to be,” Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) says upon first meeting her future husband. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” isn’t short on dramatics; in fact, this story would seem like fiction if the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Bakker wasn’t so highly publicized in the late ’80s. Oscar-nominated actress Chastain (“The Help,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) brings the misunderstood TV evangelist to life with a performance for the ages. Chastain, who also produced the film, worked on the project for years before director Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) got involved. It’s more eccentric than “I, Tonya,” and the makeup artistry even more astounding than “Hillbilly Elegy” or “Darkest Hour.” The film itself is imperfect. Questionable editing choices and over-reliance on the comedic elements almost reduce it to spectacle. What Chastain accomplishes in this two-hour character arc, however, is an astonishing transformation.
Belittled as a child because of her mother’s divorce and what that meant within the church community, Tammy Faye found God from the outside looking in. It wasn’t until she heard classmate Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) speaking at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis that she figured out what she wanted to do with her passion for Jesus. “God doesn’t want us to be poor” was the future preacher Bakker’s train of thought, and with Christianity becoming profitable thanks to television, Jim and Tammy took their flashy and unique style of preaching to broadcast. Tammy wanted to show love to everyone, including AIDS patients, while Jim cozied up to legendary evangelists such as Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds). Their greed led to one of the largest church scandals in U.S. history.
It’s not simply the hours of prosthetics and makeup that detail Tammy’s style evolution, it’s how Chastain captures the pain while smiling through the blared eyes.
The great achievement here is Chastain’s dedication to the role. It’s not simply the hours of prosthetics and makeup that detail Tammy’s style evolution, it’s how Chastain captures the pain while smiling through the overly wrought eyes. The versatile actress, who seems to effortlessly transition between superhero films, horror movies and miniseries, delivers that rare full-persona transformation that included her own singing, as well as studies of speech patterns and body language to match the look. She also pulls off the seemingly impossible task of creating empathy for the character in the third act. Oscar-nominee Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) isn’t quite on Chastain’s level, but his confessional scene and wormy interpretation rank among his best work.
The film’s primary objective is to show another side to Tammy Faye and her struggles, but it also does a particularly good job at highlighting the corruption within televangelism. The film is based on the documentary of the same name, which highlights key figures, some very much still in business today. With so much story to tell, the director and editor struggle, throwing scenes together in the third act to showcase Tammy Faye’s deteriorating persona and look. For those who remember the story, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” will fill in details and surprise you as the narrative plays out. Those discovering her for the first time will watch a slow-motion car crash that’s equal parts cringe and every bit as engrossing.
Chastain’s larger-than-life performance as Tammy Faye is mesmerizing to the point that you can hardly believe what you’re seeing.