“An intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.”

Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Abe Sylvia
Staring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio
Release Date: September 17, 2021

This is the story of Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim Bakker. Together these two religious personalities came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and became two of the most famous televangelists in history with their own PTL Network. Through their rise to fame, the pair seemed like an ideal match and everyone loved them. As the years wore on, Tammy Faye become caked in misery, despair, and heavy makeup.

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye transcribes decades worth of criminal misconduct and moral corruption in the final hour of the movie. While Tammy Faye is painted on shallow in terms of her love for merchandise and makeup, she is portrayed to be a distant conspirator to the financial miss-handlings and manipulations of Jim. Whether or not that is true, it is really hard for me to believe that she couldn’t connect the dots. In the end, the entire enterprise crumbles with news reports of the Bakker’s skimming off the top and Jim being involved in some rather fiendish sexual exploits. With all the green on her money tree rotting, Tammy Faye struggles to accept the new reality while she still has the permanent marks, both tangible and intangible, from her time at the top of the popular religious pedestal.

Jessica Chastain is the anchor of this movie. Nearly every single moment of it is focused on her portrayal Tammy Faye Baker. It is a performance that is filled with enthusiasm and confidence. The two-time Oscar nominated actress is gunning for her first win by amping up the all the feathered features of Tammy Faye and making every action sharp and jeering. Chastain starts out when the singing televangelist was a young teenager and plays her up to her ultimate demise and sad rebirth; she gets to play the entire progression all the way through.

The one confusing part of this performance is I don’t know if Chastain is going for drama, or if she is going for comedy, or it is meant to be a bit of both? There are scenes, like when she helps Jim secure a late investor, where Chastain is worthy of every bit of award buzz she’ll get. However, clips like when she is first interacting with Jim while having a picnic, that is played up and just painful to watch.

2021 was a comeback year for Chastain in terms of quality projects. There is the dramatic Scenes From A Marriage on HBO, The Forgiven with Ralph Fiennes, and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. This comes after she was part of three straight disappointments in Ava (2020), It Chapter 2 (2019) and X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019). Let’s get back to the Chastain of the early 2010s.

One of the biggest questions I have at the end of The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is whether or not we are meant to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye herself. Most of the time I love a little mystery at the end of a movie, but I think this is not by purpose, but rather by accident. I think this stems from a screenplay that wasn’t entirely sure what it wanted to be. Is The Eyes of Tammy Faye a dramedy in the likes of I, Tonya (2017), or is it meant to be more series down the Respect (2021) path?

Michael Showalter directed The Eyes Of Tammy Faye and it is by no means a poor effort. The lack of certainty of what it is dings it down a bit from his mainstream debut The Big Sick (2017), but is better than the disappointing The Lovebirds (2020). Showalter has to rely a lot on the performances for this movie to succeed and Chastain is the one creating the curve for the rest.

Andrew Garfield plays Jim Bakker and delivers a perfectly adequate performance. The last thing I saw Garfield in was Tick, Tick…Boom, and this acting is not up to the same level. Cherry Jones is blunt as Rachel Glove. The best straight up casting decision was putting Vincent D’Onofrio in the role of Jerry Falwell. He acts smug and smarter than the rest really well.

In terms of award recognition for The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, there is one category that is a sure fire lock: this movie will get a nomination for Best Makeup and Hair Styling. I think Chastain will be in contention for Best Actress. Other than that, it is a complete toss into the wind.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)

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