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New Release Review [Cinema] - THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

The Eyes of Tammy Faye review
The rise and fall of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D'Onofrio, Cherry Jones, Gabriel Olds

The Eyes of Tammy Faye poster

Late on in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the husband of the title character tells her he's tired of listening to her whiny Betty Boop voice. By that point you'll likely be nodding in agreement. Jessica Chastain's bizarrely cartoonish performance as ultimately disgraced Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker is initially amusing but becomes so torturous to endure that the movie will probably be added to the VOD selection for the inmates at Guantanamo Bay.

Director Michael Showalter and writer Abe Sylvia stick rigidly to the rise and fall biopic format, introducing us to Tammy as a child desperate to join her mother's church. Her mom (Cherry Jones, who oddly never ages over the course of the narrative's half-century) forbids her from entering the church, lest it remind her fellow parishioners that the girl is the product of a marriage that ended in divorce. Ignoring her mother's wishes, the young Tammy storms into the church and begins speaking in tongues while having spasms on the floor.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye review

The question of what inspired young Tammy to speak in tongues is, like so many details in this film, left frustratingly unanswered. Did she genuinely believe she was touched by some higher power? Or was she simply faking it, and if so, where did she learn of such behaviour?


In college, Tammy meets her future husband and business partner Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), a charismatic bible basher who preaches a new gospel of prosperity. The two get married and hit the road, spreading the gospel through a puppet show. This attracts the attention of Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds), who gives them a show on his Christian Broadcasting Network. Soon, Tammy and Pat become the network's main attraction, and find themselves in conflict with more traditionally conservative Christians like Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio).

The Eyes of Tammy Faye review

The Eyes of Tammy Faye can't quite make up its mind how it wants its eponymous subject to be viewed. With their golly gee Forrest Gump performances and make-up that gives them the appearance of some nightmarish hybrid of human and muppet, it's impossible to view Tammy and Jim in a serious manner. Yet this is a very serious story, one that involves millions of gullible Americans being scammed out of their savings as Tammy and Jim help invent the notion that souls can be saved by donating to a telethon. Tammy is portrayed as a bimbo, but her ditziness seems to open doors that might be closed for someone with a more conservative personality. The movie never lets us in on whether Tammy is genuinely this innocent, which seems highly unlikely, or whether it's all a well-rehearsed and calculated act.


Later, when Tammy becomes a sort of American Princess Di in the 1980s and controversially appeals for tolerance of homosexuals, the movie leans towards taking her side. This is hard to buy into, as her tolerance and understanding doesn't seem to extend to her closeted husband.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye review

In the hands of 1970s Robert Altman or even today's Paul Thomas Anderson, The Eyes of Tammy Faye might have been a great American movie. At its heart is that great central contradiction of both the US and Protestantism, the idea that austerity is next to Godliness, but that the prosperous have earned their place in heaven along with their earthly material rewards. We see this play out in the movie's one good scene, in which Jim argues the case for splashing out on material items with his teacher, who takes the traditional view of austerity.

For a movie about religion, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is strangely uninterested in delving into spiritualism. Did Tammy and Jim actually believe what they preached? If so, did capitalism erode their beliefs as they began to focus on accumulating wealth? Were they simply scam artists all along? Who knows? At least the Conjuring movies, which revolve around another real life Christian con artist couple, take a side, even if it is one that sticks in this sceptic's craw.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from February 4th.



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