The Eyes of Tammy Faye

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What it’s about:

It’s an intimate, big-screen worthy look at the rise and fall of infamous evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, who created the world’s most popular Christian television program, The PTL Club, alongside her husband, Jim. With years of secrets, addiction, a sex scandal, and financial decline, we see how her empire rapidly collapses before her eyes.

Names you might know:

Jessica Chastain (Oscar-nominated for The Help, Zero Dark Thirty), Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network), and Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Men in Black) are the main heavy hitters, alongside a well-rounded and talented cast. Plus, it’s directed by Michael Showalter, who directed the award-winning comedic drama The Big Sick, but might be best known for his role as Coop in Wet Hot American Summer.

Why it’s worth your time:

At the outset, it may seem like a wild time capsule from the 1980s, but the story of Tammy Faye Bakker is as timely as ever. Beneath her famous eyelashes, you will discover a woman who has been cast aside by her religion and her husband. Yet if it weren’t for her unique quirks, her passion, and astuteness, Jim Bakker and The PTL Club would cease to exist.

The film also holds a magnifying glass up to the power and greed that has grown rapidly corrupt within many  religious groups, undermining women’s rights and the LGBTQ community while overlooking drug addiction and emotional abuse. At the center of it all are Jim and Tammy Faye, and from the opening scene to the end of the movie, you can’t help but root for the little girl who just wanted to be acknowledged and seen as an equal.

Neither meandering nor rushed, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a biopic with a rich narrative and defined character arcs, and plenty of cinematic pizzaz to keep you engaged—from Tammy’s ingenious puppet shows to her musical numbers. It begins with the couple’s first meeting in 1960 and follows them through their scandals in the 90s, and the handling of passage of time happens right before your eyes, flowing from scene to scene.

And let’s not forget the players behind these characters.  The casting is near perfect, from Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Faye to Andrew Garfield’s Jim Bakker, every mannerism and glance is a chef’s kiss. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of them receiving Oscar nominations for their performances, rightfully so.

The world building and themes are expertly and delicately crafted by screenwriter Abe Sylvia. It’s not an easy feat to adapt true stories, as any writer could easily get lost in the minutia of research or grab on to tabloid hooks, especially when it comes to this extremely charismatic and scandal-ridden couple. They lived beyond their means and created a stir with their fame, fortune, and decline.

Yet in Sylvia’s hands, everything we see and learn about this messy life is primarily from Tammy’s point of view, which heightens the emotional connection to her. You feel for her when she wins and when she is at her lowest.

At its core, however, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a bigger story about the need for acceptance and perseverance, and the film opens and bookends with these themes, layering in the complexities of the AIDS epidemic, Faye’s role in her religion as a dutiful Christian wife, and her persona to the public eye. It’s all subtly inter-woven into a digestible two-hour film. As silly as Tammy Faye seemed on the surface, behind the layers of make-up and her over-the-top TV persona, she was a resilient woman, one who hit turbulence throughout her life but found a way to keep fighting through it.

Director Michael Showalter hits out of the park, bringing levity to moments of fragility and embarrassment, because let’s face it, life isn’t always puppies and rainbows; more often than not, it’s messy and awkward and sometimes it’s better to just step back and laugh a little. There’s certainly something to be said about directors who come from a comedic background, as they’re eerily adept in digging deep into personal wounds and presenting them as authentic and relatable.

The entire film is eye candy thanks to the wizardry of its cinematography, costume design, and production design, and the make-up department should receive a standing ovation, because Chastain’s transformation is unbelievable. The movie has captured Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

The takeaway:

Whether or not you were aware of the Tammy Faye Bakker story before this star-studded film adaptation, this is a film worth your time. It’s a cinematic biopic worthy of its big screen theatrical release, one that will hopefully leave you thinking about the social commentary sprinkled throughout.

Watch it with:

Anyone with an interest in compelling stories from recent history or Oscar-caliber performances.

Worth noting:

If you want to dig deeper into the Tammy Faye Bakker story, watch the documentary of the same name, available on Amazon Prime, from 2000. If you’re looking for some extra laughs, and want to fully immerse yourself into the bizarre world of religion, power and fame, I recommend watching Danny McBride’s television show The Righteous Gemstones, also available on Amazon Prime.

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