‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Brings Televangelist’s Story to the Big Screen

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” depicts the rise and fall of televangelist couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It follows the couple through their first meeting all the way until Tammy Faye’s death. The pair begin as small-time performers, but grow and grow until they eventually bring in millions of dollars of donations every day. As their empire expands to include hotels and a Christian theme park, the couple’s relationship threatens to break under the pressures of their business.

The main takeaway from the movie is Jessica Chastain’s performance as Tammy Faye. Chastain nearly disappears underneath the fake lashes and big hair as she perfectly encapsulates Tammy Faye in a true to life way. It’s not just a “Saturday Night Live” kind of impression. Her performance is over-the-top while feeling genuine and extremely kind to the real life person she is portraying. Chastain gets plenty of scenes to scream and cry, but the real highlight of her work is the little mannerisms and the movement between lines that sell Chastain as a living and breathing Tammy Faye duplicate. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is never dull because Chastain is always incredibly engaging.

Searchlight Pictures/ 20th Century Studios

Outside of Chastain’s performance, however, the movie functions more as a history lesson than as a compelling narrative. Most of the time, the film feels a mile wide and an inch deep. It touches on so many aspects of Tammy Faye’s life: affairs, addiction, fraud, LGBTQ rights, Tammy Faye’s relationship with the media and the list goes on. It chronicles all of these things like a Wikipedia page rather than going into detail. While some of these are tackled in great detail, most are only mentioned here or there but are treated as though they are important nonetheless. There are a few scenes with Tammy Faye popping pills, but it is hardly addressed. There is one montage near the end of film that shows Tammy Faye being made fun of in the media which, while potentially interesting, is tossed aside nearly as quickly as it is brought up. All of these can make viewers wonder: “just what are we supposed to get out of this?” 

The crux of the movie is the relationship between Tammy Faye and her husband Jim. Jim, played by Andrew Garfield, has the popularity of their work go to his head and leads the couple down a path toward financial ruin and public embarrassment. Chastain and Garfield have generally good chemistry with one another, particularly at the beginning of the relationship. It’s easy to buy the two of them as falling quickly in love. Later on, however, the scenes between them grow less engaging. As they begin to fight and compete, they don’t deliver the knockout punches one would hope. Garfield in particular feels especially ill-equipped to deliver in the film’s most emotional moments, which is surprising given his typical track record. 

Overall, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” while occasionally alluring, does not bring anything new to the table. It feels very much like the dozens of biopics that have come before it. In fact, it is nearly indistinguishable from 2019’s “Judy,” the Judy Garland biopic that saw Renee Zellweger take home Best Actress. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” tackles an interesting story, but not in a way that gives you anything you can’t get from a couple of YouTube videos of Tammy Faye’s interviews. Come for Chastain, stay for Chastain and leave with very little else.

By Ben Lindner

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