DunThe Eyes of Tammy Faye

  • 16 Oct - 22 Oct, 2021
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The patchy biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye is the story of “the Ken and Barbie of televangelists”, who rose to fame in the late ‘60s before sinking in disgrace in the ‘80s. Chastain is Tammy Faye, who moved away from a strict religious family to a marriage that took a more progressive view of Christianity, from God-fearing to God-loving. Her new husband, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), introduced her to an exciting world of ambition and industry, monetising their faith as part of a growing new trend of preaching to the masses via the small screen. Tammy Faye’s austere mother (Cherry Jones) believed “there’s a limit to God’s love” but they disagreed and their sky’s-the-limit worldview took them to the top before scandal dragged them down.

In the film, Jim is a familiar assemblage of red flags that Tammy Faye optimistically justifies and one of its smartest touches is only ever showing us the crumble of their world through her eyes (she’s in virtually every scene). But it’s one of the only interesting ideas that the Big Sick director, Michael Showalter, and Nurse Jackie writer Abe Sylvia have, the majority of the film plodding along like a by-the-numbers biopic, complete with lazy headline montages. Showalter is never sure whether to fully lean into the inherent campness of Tammy Faye and so the film is often too restrained, too polite, when telling the story of someone so rooted in excess. It’s a relief it doesn’t err too much on the other extreme but it’s still a little too lacking in personality, despite how much of it the protagonist exudes.

Chastain has no such trouble modulating the gaudy with the grounded, fully committing to the outsized, extravagantly made-up ham of Tammy Faye while realising her genuine, well-intentioned earnestness. It’s a big, full-throated performance, a gamble that will probably prove divisive, and it’s easy to bristle at something so drastically transformative given how many actors have attempted similar fuelled by thirst for an Oscar. But Chastain sells it as something more soulful than calculated mimicry, unravelling layers that Sylvia’s script doesn’t always provide her with. There’s a less convincing turn from a miscast Garfield, who never really settles comfortably into the role, made that much more glaring by Chastain’s fine work. All in all, The Eyes of Tammy Faye’s focus might be all over the place, but our eyes remain trained directly on Chastain.