The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye ★★★★

I'm not sure how this will play for folks who have no prior knowledge about anyone involved, but for me it was incredible. I grew up in a very religious family during the final decade of Bakker's "ministry" and though my parents were thankfully not the type to watch and believe in televangelism, I was very aware of the influence Bakker, Falwell, Robertson and such had because of the wide support for televangelism across the Bible Belt where I lived. There were still so many scenes in this that even I could relate to from my own upbringing, though, like a young Jim and Tammy making out in a dorm room bed, their hands all over each other as they both moaned "we can't, we can't, we can't".

But to the point, this biopic hones in on its namesake more than anything else and is better for it. The title itself has a sort of a double meaning even, both alluding to the actual cartoonish-looking makeup that Tammy Faye was known for wearing and the fact that this story feels as if always told through Tammy's perspective. Keep that in mind when evaluating it for any sort of truth, but I think it captures her beliefs about God's love for all well. What's most amazing is not surprising at all and that is the transformative performance of Jessica Chastain as Tammy. We walk with the character through some of her own religious upbringing to her meeting and marrying Jim to her helping create a massive outreach network to ultimately her own struggles, mistakes, and eventually her divorce and reckoning with the reality of what her life had become. From start to finish Chastain slips into the persona of Tammy seamlessly delivering a phenomenal depiction in mannerism, speech, and every other detail imaginable. Garfield is likewise awesome as Jim Bakker, but simply overshadowed because Chastain is that good and Tammy is the centerpiece of the story.

Even knowing what happens, this is a hard story to watch. Many evangelicals who genuinely at one point meant well were led so astray by bad theology such as the prosperity gospel, and we see in the lives of Jim and Tammy the challenge of struggling with sin in your own life while trying to always put forth a picture of perfection. Of course, the reality is that Jim was a crook and far from the example of Christ he claimed to be called to be. We also get a good look at the beginnings of evangelicals and their connection to the Republican Party, supporting the election of Ronald Reagan and others. We all know where that got us... There's a pretty powerful shot toward the end of the film where Tammy is singing at a Christian concert about the glory of God, with a robed choir behind her on stage, and an American flag dramatically drops behind her as she says "God bless America. Hallelujah. Oh yeah." and OMG it says EVERYTHING about this type of evangelism and how tied it remains to nationalism even to this day.

As a biopic this checks all the boxes I want. It's entertaining as heck with a playful and airy and colorful tone, as well as a brisk pace. It's enthralling, informative, and challenging, too, showing us a flawed person who its easy to have empathy for and a religious system that betrayed the real intentions of Christ. I'll be very interested to read how non-Christians and those who knew nothing about these people react to the film. The movie does slightly lose its momentum toward the end and there are points that I was wanting more of a deeper dive into Jim's sins, before I remembered this isn't his story directly being told. But those small quibbles aside, and even taking away my personal attraction to this as religious history, Showalter has crafted an immensely high-quality production that is one of the best pictures of the year and a contender for many awards.

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