The Reel Review

B

Jessica Chastain stars in this biopic about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the duo behind The PTL Club, the world’s largest televangelist TV network of the 1970s and 80s. The film from director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) is based on the critically acclaimed 2000 documentary of the same name.

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Buried under latex, makeup and groovy 80s-era fashions, Chastain is a spitting image of Tammy Faye – channeling not only her chipmunk-cheeked appearance, but her distinctive babydoll voice and mannerisms. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) oozes ickyness as her shady, scandal-plagued husband Jim, with an always excellent Cherry Jones (Defending Jacob) as her wise but grumpy mother and Vincent D’Onofrio infuriatingly good as the despicable, ultra-conservative opportunist, Jerry Falwell Sr. (He really was a monster.)

Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

For those already familiar with the saga, the screenplay itself is a pretty predictable affair, focusing more on blending iconic visuals with lots of fascinating archival footage – than in revealing any real insight into Tammy Faye’s psyche or even the sordid details of her husband’s empire-destroying scandals. For those less familiar, the duo’s prior rise through Pat Robertson’s CBN TV network and founding of The 700 Club at least will be illuminating.

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

But where the film truly soars is in Chastain’s powerhouse performance. She portrays Tammy Faye in a redemptive light, as a kind-hearted, true believer – a progressive pioneer who bravely defied her gay-hating televangelist peers in her compassion for the LGBTQ community. Tammy Faye’s sweet nature makes the public’s widespread ridicule of her appearance, which grew more outlandish as she became increasingly unhappy, that much more cruel and undeserving. This film is her legacy’s happy ending.

REEL FACTS

• Jessica Chastain bought the film rights a decade ago, combing through the RuPaul-narrated, Fenton Bailey/Randy Barbato 2000 documentary and watching reams of unused footage in researching the role.


• Singer/songwriter Gary S. Paxton always maintained that he and Tammy Faye never had an inappropriate relationship, despite her fondness for him. He died in 2016 at age 77 at a Branson, Missouri assisted living facility following heart surgery.


• Jim and Tammy Faye’s son Jay has praised the film as humanizing his parents. Jim Bakker, who leads a church in Branson, Missouri, in June 2021 settled a lawsuit with the state attorney general for peddling an unproven solution to cure COVID-19.

 

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