The Eyes of Tammy Faye movie poster
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The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Eyes of Tammy Faye movie poster

The Eyes of Tammy Faye Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Jessica Chastain decides to look and act like the mom from That 70’s Show in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a biopic about the colorful televangelist of the 70s and 80s who bucked tradition and advocated for LGBT acceptance while also spending ridiculous amounts of money on herself rather than her constituents.

Chastain is nearly unrecognizable thanks in part to the incredible makeup job done by Linda Dowds and team; in fact, if you didn’t know she was the headliner you’d never even think it was her. While Andrew Garfield, playing Tammy’s equally weird-as-hell husband Jim Bakker, looks a lot more like Andrew Garfield, the makeup work with him, especially as he ages, is equally impressive.

I rarely talk about makeup work, let alone lead a review with it, but it’s the one true standout element of The Eyes of Tammy Faye; the rest of the movie is your standard, mediocre biopic, boosted only by the fact that strongly devout people—especially ones seemingly made for television glory—are incredibly strange and silly and make for amusing subjects.

Armed with a grating “Betty Boop” voice and a flirtatious energy, Chastain is solid as Tammy, though it’s hard to distinguish between what is caricature and what is a real performance. The same goes for Garfield, who also talks in a way that makes you want to punch him in the face every time he opens his smarmy mouth. He’s acting, presumably, like Jim Bakker did, but is he acting acting?

The main problem with The Eyes of Tammy Faye is that everything, from the characters to the story to the production itself, feels very surface level; when shit gets really, the film barely digs its claws in. Chastain and Garfield, both terrific actors, get chewed up and spit out by the machine, and director Michael Showalter seems unable to give the story, ripe for a brutal takedown of the televangelist culture, much bite.

My wife, who liked the movie more than me, argues the film’s seemingly straight laced approach to the material is more intentional than I interpreted it to be. There is some merit to the idea; Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker and this entire world they create is so outlandish and strange and insincere that the best angle to take is to just show it as is and let the audience decide what fate they deserve.

But I needed more.

The shallowness of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which, by the way, seems to either absolve her of or at least refuses to actively explore her role in the massive fraud that, on paper, her husband carried out, holds the movie back from being something much greater. In the hands of different filmmakers, one could imagine this story being a goldmine of fierce performances and scandal, of the rise and fall of outrageous and deceitful personalities. But The Eyes of Tammy Faye is unwilling to go there… it is unwilling to judge the title character, or at least provide the depth for the audience to judge itself, and what we are left with is yet another forgettable biopic.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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