The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a scandalous yet darkly comedic biopic that depicts the rise and fall of the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, two of America’s most infamous televangelists. We follow the pair as they build their media empire from nothing, spreading the word of God to televisions across America whilst also lining their pockets with the donations of their easily manipulated viewers.
The two central performances of Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield are the core focus of the film, and rightfully so. Both actors get totally lost in their roles, embodying their real-life counterparts in every way. Whether it’s the unique accents and bizarre mannerisms or the insane prosthetics and makeup work, Chastain and Garfield are almost unrecognisable on screen.
Chastain plays the chirpy, hopeful, and naïve Tammy Faye, who wants nothing more than to preach the teachings of Jesus to new audiences through music and puppetry alongside her husband. It is also very clear that she wants to tackle larger societal issues and help all people in need, especially those outcasted from the Church. However, whilst sympathetic, she is by no means innocent, still playing a major role in the money-making scheme, whether she understands the gravity of the situation or not.
Garfield’s Jim Bakker on the other hand quickly becomes obsessed with the wealth that could be accrued from faith-based television. Seeing an actor who has become so well known for playing the hero in his films (e.g: The Amazing Spider-Man and Tick, Tick… BOOM!) disappear into the role of a greedy, manipulative villain was very jarring to say the least. However, despite going in this new direction, he succeeds and becomes wonderfully hateable as we witness him use all those around him to his own benefit.
The film immerses the audience in the world of televangelism, giving us plenty of glimpses at how religion can easily become a nefarious enterprise that preys on the faithful. Everything has that glittery made-for-TV sheen, with lights, cameras, and adoring fans. We also see massive mansions, frivolous spending sprees, and hidden drug habits. The Bakkers spread the message of paying your way to heaven, and we witness where every cent goes. There are also plenty of scandals, cover-ups, and felonies too if country-wide fraud wasn’t bad enough. Oh, and a Christian waterpark.
However, the whole film is seen from one perspective- through (*title drop*) the eyes of Tammy Faye. We watch first-hand as the relationship between Jim and Tammy develops throughout the decades, with plenty of ups and downs. This provides the film with a well-needed emotional element, where trust is broken, self-worth is questioned, and morals are strained. Nobody’s hands are clean, but you truly feel for Tammy Faye and her situation, especially when she starts to speak out about what she believes in, despite being trapped in a world run by old men. Chastain brings every emotion of the character to the forefront, even with such an over-the-top appearance. It’s no surprise that she has caught the eye of the Academy with her recent Best Actress Oscar nomination.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye was a surprisingly engaging and entertaining biopic. Despite being very outlandish and almost cartoonish at times, I can’t help but respect its efforts. There are better offerings out there, but it’s been a while since one immersed me so heavily in such a strange and unfamiliar setting, in no small part due to the shocking dedication of the two main stars. For those looking for their next biopic fix, your prayers may have just been answered.
Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures