THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenwriter: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Abe Sylvia
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marm Wystach, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Jay Huguley
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/7/21
Opens: September 17, 2021. Streaming November 2, 2021
Call it a soap opera as some critics point out, but it’s a richly rewarding film, filled with a terrific pair of lead actors, produced on a large scale with rousing songs and a religious motif that will be embraced by some in the audience while others, particularly the more secular, could be turned off. Corruption in religion is well known, the past decade harping on the sexual proclivities of some in the Catholic Church. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is based on actual events involving hidden homosexual activities of a televangelist and the transfer of money donated for the expansion of an evangelical religion to private purposes.
The title character, played by Jessica Chastain (sure to get be nominated by the Academy and also a large number of film groups), and Tammy Faye’s husband, Jim Bakker (Andrew Baker in a stunning job as supporting actor), go step by step through the biopic conventions. Essentially the young, innocent Tammy, first ecstatic, then brought down not only by her own avarice and the deterioration of her marriage, appears to punctuate the idea that to be happy, you must be like a child—that’s childlike, not childish. The movie is bookmarked by events in the life of little Tammy Faye (Chandler Head) whose idea of excitement lies not in videogames, TV or movies but in the machinations of an evangelical preacher, and who during a service speaks in tongues.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is directed by Michael Showalter, whose “The Lovebirds” last year deals with a couple embroiled in a murder mystery. Tammy comes from a home dominated by her mother, Rachel Grover (Cherry Jones), a stern woman of simple tastes who will become disgusted by the growing materialism of her daughter—until even she cherishes a fur coat that Tammy buys for her through funds that may have been diverted from contributions.
We might see where things are going when Jim Bakker goes against the Christlike teachings of penury to preach a gospel of prosperity and Tammy defies the church by wearing makeup. (If you listen to the views of audience members who have seen the film, you’re likely to hear about Tammy’s makeup which, we are told, required Chastain to sit through seven hours of preparation on a good day and will likely snatch an Oscar for the nine persons involved in the makeup department.) Then together, Tammy and Jim defy school rules by getting married and getting expelled.
Gaining a large audience through puppet shows in which the hand-held figures join the duo in insisting that God loves you, they meet the big shots in the field, namely Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and the stick-up-his-butt Jerry Falwell—who is sure that America is going to hell because of homosexuality. Tammy continues her rebellious stance by shocking a table of bigwigs in the church by insisting that homosexuals should be treated like human beings. The marriage shows a strain when Jim, competing and surpassing Pat Robertson’s numbers in his own show, leaves Tammy home alone with her baby.
Sex rears its head when Jim is sure that his wife is having an affair with Gary Paxton (Jim Wystrach), a record producer, while Jim retaliates by hiring a female prostitute just once to get back at her. Tammy becomes addicted to drugs and consumerism, enjoying the luxurious home given to them by the church, ultimately to be ground down by debt and Jim’s conviction of mishandling church funds.
This powerful tale which may make you at first disgusted with Tammy’s materialism and extreme use of makeup could encourage you take in other projects about evangelists, the classic being “Elmer Gantry” (1960) starring Burt Lancaster as a man who likes his booze, tobacco and women-chasing but who convinces the church that he could be a charismatic preacher, successful despite sexual indiscretions and hypocrisy.
126 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+