Released: 27th January
Seen: 16th March
Tammy Faye Bakker is one of the more fascinating figures in televangelist history. When one thinks of televangelists you tend to think of the fire and brimstone preachers, the prosperity gospel peddlers and those who use their bully pulpit in order to bully those who God would’ve actually commanded them to love… Tammy wasn’t like that. Tammy was kind, loving and had a fondness for waterproof mascara.
She was energetic, full of joy that emanated from deep down in her soul and was a bit of a rebel… by that I mean she was one of the first people with a big platform during the 80s who not only sided with the LGBT community during the AIDS crisis but she was noted for trying to convert Christians onto a path of love for those who needed it. She was an angel, and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye does a pretty good job of telling her complicated life story.
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye follows the meteoric rise and fall of Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) as they try to grow their little ministry. From humble beginnings on a local station to becoming worldwide idols of their faith, the Bakker’s not only become famous but their wealth and lifestyle grows to a point where Tammy is able to become a musician and use her power to try and spread love and kindness, even though Jim seems to slowly be going further and further towards the right-wing side of the political aisle which causes a rift between him and Tammy that means the two of them might not make it through together.
Considering that one tends to think of excess when they think of Tammy Faye, it’s fitting that The Eyes Of Tammy Faye also seems to enjoy dabbling in a little bit of excess. The performances are certainly fine, though just a hint over the top. The montages are essential but there’s a camp quality to them (a drug montage is set to the disco hit Jesus Keeps Takin’ Me Higher & Higher, that’s camp!). There’s just this feeling of a little bit too much in everything but it weirdly works considering the subjects who were themselves all about being gaudy and over the top, plus it means when The Eyes Of Tammy Faye does decide to pull back and be a little more low key that it really stands out as something special.
The best moment where everyone just pulls back just enough to let the reality of everything sink in is the recreation of the legendary interview Tammy Faye did with Steve Pieters, an AIDS patient. It was one of the first interviews ever done with an AIDS patient, certainly the first one done by an evangelical on a Christian network show and it’s easily the highlight of The Eyes Of Tammy Faye where they let Jessica Chastain be a conduit for Tammy Faye’s love for this community.
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye makes sure you don’t forget that one of the things that made Tammy Faye so beloved, even despite the scandals that plagued the Bakker’s, is that Tammy was a good person who fought for LGBTQIA+ people at a time when it was just not done by many in the public eye. They have her throw out little comments, there’s this interview scene, it’s even brought up during the credits and it isn’t afraid to just hammer that home.
Where The Eyes Of Tammy Faye does pull a few punches seems to be with Jim Bakker, possibly because he’s still alive and could sue, which is a shame because by all accounts he’s an asshole. They just don’t seem to go there with him for things like the alleged rape of Jessica Hahn (which turns into “that crazy lady who called” and one line about the hush payment) or indeed the extent of his actual crimes. Sure, he’s not portrayed as a nice person (because he’s not, Jim Bakker has always been an ass and he’s still an ass even up to this year where he’s been selling fake Covid cures… he’s alive and Tammy isn’t, tell me life is fair!) but the extent of his bad deeds aren’t really brought to task… though, no lie, Andrew Garfield does a great job at playing the unrepentant asshole, just wish he’d been allowed to delve into the worst aspects of Jim.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye belongs, quite obviously, to the titular Tammy Faye herself who Jessica Chastain truly just becomes. From the perfect practical effects that transformed her face into the chipmunk-esque image of Tammy to the iconic eyes that everyone knows, you take one look and you just see Tammy Faye right there in front of you before Jessica has opened her mouth to say a word… and then she talks and Tammy lives again. It’s the kind of complete embodiment of a person that is almost designed to draw critical acclaim and it deserves all of it.
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is certainly an interesting way to tell the story, flowing between camp and melodrama and occasional moments of actually trying to be serious. It’s probably not gonna grab everyone but for some people (like me, I am the ‘Some people’) this is going to be impossible to look away from. It’s strange but it works, helped by the performances and the frantic speed that feels like the film has downed a bottle of amphetamines at times. If nothing else, this will remind people that we were pretty lucky to have someone like Tammy Faye around and maybe the world would be a whole lot better if people had tried to be a little more like Tammy and a little less like Jim.