Review: 'The Eyes Of Tammy Faye' is a Fascinating Look at a Misunderstood Woman

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 2, 2021

'The Eyes of Tammy Faye'
'The Eyes of Tammy Faye'  (Source:Fox Searchlight)

There is a more cutting look at the lives of evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker and her fallen husband Jim Bakker that could have been made here, but director Michael Showalter's dramatic retelling, based on the documentary of the same name is a fascinating look at a very misunderstood woman.

Featuring a spectacular performance by Jessica Chastain, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" might follow the usual biopic format, but it never fails to fascinate or move.

In the '80s, Tammy Faye Bakker was a household joke. The overly made-up wife of rodent-faced preacher Jim Bakker was the butt of jokes due to her penchant for wearing a lot of makeup, her mousey voice, and her unabashed earnestness. Until the Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato 2000 documentary, no one looked at her as anything more than a punchline. They soon discovered a woman of tremendous empathy, positivity, and faith.

The new film opens with Tammy Faye telling a makeup artist, "I am who I am" and being okay with that, despite the trademarks of her look for which she is mocked. The film jumps back to her childhood, in which she was growing up as a child of divorce. Her mother Rachel (Cherry Jones) won't allow her into the church she plays the piano for because her presence will remind everyone that Rachel is a "sinner." But Tammy does, and after she takes communion and speaks in tongues she understands her calling in life.

We move ahead to a Christian Bible College, where a super-positive and outspoken Tammy meets Jim (Andrew Garfield), also marching to the beat of his own drum. The two quickly marry (much to Mom's dismay) and go about preaching the word of God to anyone who will listen.

Eventually, the two find themselves with their own children's show on Pat Robertson's (Gabriel Olds) network, which leads quickly to their own program, "The 700 Club," which launches the duo on a successful career as preachers and entertainers.

But all is not what it seems, and despite her endless positivity, Tammy Faye starts to see the cracks of her marriage and the limits of her power. While she struggles with her mother, Jim's personal behavior, and her desire to reach out to groups the network would rather she didn't (namely, the LGBTQ+ community), Tammy Faye remains steadfast as long as she can. When she breaks, it's a long time coming, and you can't help but stand firmly on her side.

Director Showalter ("The Big Sick") knows how to navigate the inherent humor in the subject matter, but never makes fun of his subject. She is a funny and engaging character, and, despite how America perceived her, he brings out the humanity that so many had missed. Much of the film's humor comes from her and her vibrant personality, and that alone makes you fall in love with her.

Garfield is terrific as Jim, balancing moments of genuine care for his wife and his career with the smarmier aspects of his behavior. While there is quite a cast here, and all excel, this is Chastain and Garfield's show all the way — particularly Chastain, who pursued this project for years.

Chastain loses herself in Tammy Faye, consistently smiling, hiding her pain, and emitting the adorable giggle she was famous for. While the makeup and prosthetics are momentarily distracting, you quickly forget about it as you get entranced by her award-worthy performance. You literally can't look away. She's that good.

There's a telling scene in the last twenty minutes of the film where an older and poorer Tammy Faye arrives home to her apartment complex where three teenage boys make fun of her. Tammy is momentarily hurt by this, but quickly turns herself around to greet them. She says, "You can talk about me all you want, but you have to meet me first." Then she introduces herself.

This is a perfect encapsulation of the theme, and the ultimate point of the film. We all talked about Tammy Faye for years, but we didn't know her. And now that we do, we wished we got to know her even more.

"The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is available digitally today and on BLU/DVD November 16

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.