Three reasons to see The Eyes of Tammy Faye: Jessica Chastain. Jessica Chastain and Jessica Chastain.
Occasionally actors connect with a role in a way that seems destined by fate. It’s that rare intersection of talent and character that turns out to be an absolutely perfect match.
It describes Jessica Chastain’s performance as televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.
The movie’s title refers to Tammy Faye’s signature, gaudy, sparkly, over-the-top eye makeup that set her apart from just about everyone else on the planet.
On another level, the movie sees the events of her life through her eyes, offering some depth and insight into a story that is so much more complex than it might appear at first glance.
It’s probably fair to say that the media were not kind to Tammy and her husband Jim Bakker, played brilliantly by Andrew Garfield. They seemed to be charismatic opportunists cashing in on fundamentalist belief and faith and the dollars and donations that could be fleeced from a legion of followers. They appeared to be shameful scam artists who were eventually caught and punished for their corruption and crimes.
It was a fall from grace for both of them, with Jim doing time in prison.
It seemed like a simple tale of crime and punishment, but in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Tammy’s story was more complex than that. The movie takes a closer, somewhat sympathetic look at her life, beginning with her early childhood, one of poverty and a strong belief that she was chosen by God to go out and do great things.
The dream begins to materialize with Tammy’s introduction to Jim in a bible school.
They fall in love, get married and set upon their mission to spread the word of Jesus.
Early on, they decide to reach out to children by staging a show featuring Jim’s preaching and Tammy’s puppetry. The film shows her fashioning a simple hand puppet using the rubber head of a bubble bath bottle. It’s a humorous but pivotal moment.
Their travels eventually attract the attention of other startup televangelists like Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio). It’s the chapter of history that spawned The 700 Club and the PTL (Praise the Lord) Network that Tammy and Jim founded.
They soon discovered that religion could be a very profitable business. But, as with so many other stories, they also learn the ugly lesson that power and money can corrupt. On a grand scale, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is the familiar rise and fall of an empire, in this case an empire of televangelists and never-ending fund-raising telethons.
In the movie, Tammy questions all the wealth that Jim is amassing along the way. He assures her that God never wanted anyone to be poor and that their success was justified in the eyes of the Lord—their reward for doing God’s work.
As depicted in the film, Tammy is less of a heartless opportunist than a naïve, narcissistic, young woman with good intentions and a love for the spotlight. In the era of AIDS, she is sympathetic with the cause of gay men, much to the dismay of Falwell and his ultra-conservative friends who cite the bible’s stand on same-sex relationships.
The political leanings of Falwell, Robertson and their friends and followers gain the attention of Ronald Reagan, who welcomes them and their conservative views with open arms.
Through it all, Tammy remained steadfast and supportive, during turbulent times when those views were viewed as unpopular with religious groups around the country.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an interesting history lesson. And it’s an engaging bio pic. The writing and
directing credits are solid.
But it’s the performances that outshine everything else here. Jessica Chastain immerses herself in the role and becomes Tammy Faye Baker. She has said in interviews that it was a dream project she had wanted to do for quite some time. Her instincts were good.
Chastain is one of the most talented women in Hollywood. She first caught my attention in Terrence Malick’s breathtaking film, The Tree of Life (2011). Then came her roles in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Martian (2015) and The Zookeeper’s Wife and Molly’s Game (2017).
In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, she dives so deep into character so deeply that she is virtually unrecognizable. The make-up and digital effects totally transform her.
But beyond her appearance, she brings Tammy Faye’s voice and personality to life. She even performs some of Tammy Faye’s songs.
It’s a masterful performance, beginning with the opening close-up shot of Tammy Faye’s famous face, one that is deserving of an Oscar for Best Actress.
Other Oscars might go to Andrew Garfield (Best Supporting Actor), as well as Michael Showalter (director) and the writing and hair and makeup teams.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a labor of love from a bright, shining star, one of the top ten films of 2021.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is in theaters now.
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