‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a semi-biographical drama film directed by Michael Showalter, based on the 2000 documentary of the same name. The film stars Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Gabriel Olds, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The story depicts the history of controversial televangelists Tammy Faye Bakker and her then-husband, Jim Bakker, from their courtship at North Central Bible College, through their marriage, the founding of the PTL Satellite Network, infidelity, and eventual divorce after Jim was indicted, convicted, and imprisoned on numerous counts of fraud and conspiracy in 1989.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye does a good job at giving the viewer an insight into Christian televangelism during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Unfortunately, it shows a dark side to the ministry where a lot of these “pastors” use their influence to collect money from their parishioners to support their lavish lifestyles instead of doing good in the community. The film portrays Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker as somewhere in the middle of this. While they did help many with their ministry, they also spent a lot of money on themselves to maintain the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. Attributing it to God wanting them to be happy and reap their rewards. More information on how they did this would have been nice as the film decides to shy away from the nitty-gritty details of embezzlement. The film does not go into detail into what ways Jim Bakker was misappropriating funds leaving the viewer to assume that most of the money that was donated went right into their bank account. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, as the title suggests, is more a drama than a crime drama. Most of the time is spent showing how Tammy Faye dealt with the many issues of her life and mostly ignores her husband taking money from the church to support them.

Michael Showalter does a great job of showing off the pomp and theatricality of being a televangelist. It was great to see how conservative pastors felt, especially during this time, about trying to win the “war on television.” Many conservative Christians did not care to watch television especially past a certain time and Jim Bakker wanted to change that. This film does a great job exploring how he did that and I appreciate Showalter making it feel interesting to a degree. The movie does speed along at a decent pace never resting too much on its laurels and does a great job incorporating the montage to explore the quick periods from the beginning of PTSL to it becoming the largest Christian network in the world. Not many films make use of montages in modern times and I’m glad to see a director take the time to make it work.

Jessica Chastain does a great job emulating Tammy Faye. We are with her from a young age and see how she was treated as the child of a divorced family. It is heartbreaking to see how Christians viewed divorce in her small town. Her mother, Rachel, was shown to be afraid to even bring Tammy Faye to church feeling it would bring up conversations about her divorce. Going as far as to tell Tammy that the only reason she was allowed back is that she is the best piano player. Understandably, she was afraid, but to deny her daughter the chance to go to church is very selfish and unchristian-like behavior. There are also hints of conservative Christian views on the makeup that women wear along with same-sex relationships. Where Tammy Faye thought all these things were okay as long as you were a child of God and you love Jesus Christ as much as the next Christian, others were not as open to the idea. While the viewer is never made aware of exactly how much Tammy Faye knew about what was going on you do feel for her when things start to go south. All she wanted to do was help people and feel loved. Something made evident from seeing her backstory, so the viewer sides with her when she’s hurting. You feel for her when people make fun of her and only a great actress can pull off making the viewer feel such empathy. Chastain also does a great job mimicking the voice and mannerisms of Tammy Faye to an extent that it is hard to tell them apart. That being said, you can tell them apart by their facial features. Jessica Chastain does not look much like Tammy Faye so they put cheek prosthetics and makeup on her face to make her look more like the televangelist. Throughout the film, Chastain’s cheeks look puffy like a chipmunk and I feel that she is such a great actress that the prosthetics weren’t necessary. She could have easily gone without them and carried the performance with her talent alone.

Andrew Garfield is also good as Jim Bakker, another actor that does not look very much like the person he is portraying and is also done up with minimal prosthetics. More should have been done to explore his background along with Tammy Faye. I do understand that the movie is mainly about her, but hearing him talk about how he came to want to become a pastor and go to a Christian school was a great backstory and I would love to find out more about his psyche. This would have made for a better story to get to know both of the leads equally even if mainly from Tammy’s point of view. The standout of the film is Vincent D’Onofrio is Jerry Falwell, Sr. He is only in a few scenes and he manages to steal the show. If you grew up in the Carolinas you know exactly who he is, as he found in Liberty University, the biggest Christian University on the East Coast. He is portrayed almost as a mob boss-type figure amongst the pastors. They all look up to him in crave his respect and admiration. They all want to be like him and show him respect by speaking to him a certain way and make sure that their wives are on their best behavior around him. D’Onofrio portrays him as a very conservative man with very conservative views on everything. He is also depicted as a shrewd businessman. Using underhanded tactics in the way he does business with people and is not as open as other pastors who wanted to usurp the PTL Satellite Network from Tammy Faye and Jim. It’d be great to see an entire film based around Falwell, Sr. especially if Vincent D’Onofrio wants to reprise his role.

While the film is enjoyable, I wish it was not afraid to get into the essentials of the crime aspect of the story. This should have been The Wolf of Wall Street of Christian televangelism, but it wasn’t. I give The Eyes of Tammy Faye a Solid 6.5/10. I feel this would do better as a season-long arc on American Crime Story. It would allow viewers to get to know the side characters more and get more information on the actual crime that took place.

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