CAST: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Fredric Lehne, Louis Cancelmi, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Mark Wystrach, Jay Huguley, Randy Havens, Jess Weixler, Chandler Head
RUNNING TIME: 126 mins
BASICALLY…: The rise and fall of famed televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Chastain) and her husband Jim (Garfield)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
No matter what you may have to say about The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which I’m sure there is plenty, I think we can all agree that Jessica Chastain is an outstanding force behind said eyes. The actress (who also produces) completely loses herself in the role of the famed televangelist, not just under heavy prosthetic make-up that accentuates those chipmunk cheeks and rather horrifying lipstick-eyeliner combo, but within an exceedingly likable performance that commands your attention through its chirpy fragility, and allows her to share a number of compelling scenes with an equally-great Andrew Garfield as her husband Jim Bakker.
However, you really do wish that the film itself would keep up with its indomitable lead, for it sadly falls into a lot of standard biopic trappings which aren’t necessarily bad, but lack a specific focus that sadly renders this film a little bit of a mess.
Based on the documentary feature of the same name, The Eyes of Tammy Faye quickly introduces us to Chastain’s title character, who hails from a devoutly Christian family in Minnesota, and who in 1960 meets and eventually marries Garfield’s Jim at college. Both of them start out as travelling preachers using puppets and songs to connect with their Christian audiences, and eventually they earn the attention of the Christian Broadcasting Network which gives them their own TV show – but when they are disillusioned by the conservative nature of fellow preachers like Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio, playing the role as though the Kingpin were a born-again Christian; you half-expect him to bash someone’s head in with a car door while screaming, “You embarrassed me in front of Him!”), they start their own network called PTL (Praise The Lord) which earns them considerable wealth and adoration from viewers. However, their ambitions are soon undone by financial scandal, as well as the growing tension between Tammy and Jim as the married couple find multiple strains in their professional and personal relationship.
It does make sense that this was based on a documentary, because you can recognise the matter-of-fact storytelling that dominates this script, which often focuses too much on certain events in this particular story rather than giving a much more detailed account. There are entire chunks of this couple’s life and career that the film completely glides over, including their actual founding of PTL and the growing audience that develops over the years (which, here, are condensed to mere seconds), while characters who should be important to the overall plot are barely given any dialogue or even a sense of character. It leaves you rather perplexed that it apparently takes no time at all for success on this magnitude to be acquired, and makes you curious as to what director Michael Showalter left out in order to make room for other, slightly less interesting anecdotes. Either way, the script is so all over the place that it gives you less time to truly form a connection with the events and their emotional impact.
This is especially apparent when The Eyes of Tammy Faye tries to tackle a number of things that Tammy Faye Bakker actually did try to accomplish, including launching a singing career and drawing attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, something that was considered a big no-no in the homophobic Christian community. These are largely relegated to just a few notable scenes, and while they are impeccably performed – again, Jessica Chastain really is great in this movie, and also comes with a decent singing voice – there simply isn’t enough contextual backing or even focus for them to land as gently as they ought to, instead generating some blatant tonal gaps that have you wondering if it’s supposed to be serious or a satirical stab at certain televangelist ideals. Had there been more focus on some of these things, instead of being randomly placed throughout, then perhaps the film would have earned its emotional impact.
Ultimately, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is one of those movies that is carried solely by its lead actors, who are certainly up to the task but should not be the one flawless detail of your overall feature. It is certainly an interesting subject that it revolves around, but unfortunately the movie is too unfocused to really make audiences fall in love with Tammy Faye Bakker as much as audiences back then clearly did – unless we’re talking specifically about Jessica Chastain’s warts-and-all performance, which really is the saving grace of this film.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a biopic that takes an all-too unfocused approach to its interesting subject matter, squandering most of its potential on standard, matter-of-fact storytelling which lacks the emotional context needed to be truly invested, but an excellent central performance by Jessica Chastain saves the movie from being a complete fall from grace.