Sometimes you head into a movie completely uninspired. Whether the subject doesn’t speak to you, or the genre just isn’t your style, there are plenty of reasons to be less than thrilled about a film you’re watching.TIFF 2021’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye fell into this category for me. The first few minutes had me cringing between the storyline and Tammy Faye’s voice, but by the end of the movie I looked at my partner and said, “I think that was a really good movie.”
The Eyes of Tammy Faye depicts a story that seems almost unbelievable. A young couple put their blind faith in God, rise to the top of Christian television, and watch it all come crashing down around them in a sea of scandal. Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) gained fame with The PLT Club, an evangelist Christian TV show, and built an empire. Raising a family and balancing that with fame, greed and Faye’s need for attention and validation, they didn’t quite get the happy ending they hoped for.
Director Michael Showalter and writer Abe Sylvia managed to tell the Bakker’s story in a way that kept me invested, even though I found the characters genuinely unlikable. To be clear, I adore Chastain and Garfield, so my dislike is a testament to what a great job they both did. I began wanting nothing to do with this couple, and by the end, my heart was breaking for Tammy Faye.
Jessica Chastain was unrecognizable. Her transformation was physical, audible and even spiritual. I would never have known who played Tammy Faye, and she settled into her role perfectly. Her innocence was almost admirable, following her husband blindly. Being able to see behind the scenes of Tammy Faye’s life, it’s known that everything is an act for the cameras-for their “partners”. Watching Chastain go from real-life disaster to showbiz darling within the role was memorizing. The waterworks were convincing to say the least.
Andrew Garfield grew with his role as Jim Bakker as well, showing hints of the villain under the surface throughout the film. Watching his character slowly groom and manipulate Faye was uncomfortable to watch, as it should be. Though the transformation wasn’t as drastic as Chastain’s, he managed to make his charming character feel off, without showing any real red flags. Garfield is no longer the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, that’s for sure.
The hair, make-up and costume teams transformed the actors spanning decades, from young adults in love to elderly and weathered. They managed to do it in a way that didn’t seem “too much”, aside from the iconic, overdone, Tammy Faye look. Unfortunately, no matter what you do to Garfield, he will forever look like a teenager, even with grey hair. Chastain was the real transformation here. Tammy Faye began sweet and simple, moving to glamorous, and eventually gaudy. The team stayed true to the source material there.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye left me thinking, and feeling.”
I really can’t identify at what point in the movie I changed from “I don’t want to watch this,” to “this was really good”. I can only describe what I felt when it was over. I sat with the film for a little while, with the story and the characters. I don’t often feel the need to do that. I needed to figure out if redemption was possible for anyone, if they became likeable or if it was just pity, and honestly, it seems like a pretty fine line.
I didn’t know the story of Tammy Faye before this, and taking in her entire life in 126 minutes is intense, much like she was. A woman in the 70s with no fear of discussing erectile dysfunction, HIV, human rights and more in front of millions of people is badass to say the least. She had no trouble speaking up and sitting at the men’s table, especially going toe to toe with Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), ending in their ultimate fall.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye left me thinking, and feeling. It left me sad for a woman who once had it all. If a film I had no real desire to jump into managed to affect me this far after the fact, the team behind it absolutely did something right. Though the subject wasn’t exactly my niche, the scandal, flair and charisma that Chastain brought to her role made The Eyes of Tammy Faye worth seeing.