The Eyes of Tammy Faye Review

Evangelical sorrows are surprisingly popular in America. Those that wish to be saved through the grainy, stilted footage of a television screen will have to turn to the likes of Tammy Faye or Jim Bakker for salvation. But The Eyes of Tammy Faye proves the rather obvious. Scam artists and evangelical inspiration, for Faye and Bakker, went hand in hand. The Michael Showalter-directed feature looks to bridge that gap as quickly and vividly as it can. A two-hour feature starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield certainly should have the time to do so, with competent hands at the wheel it is no surprise that The Eyes of Tammy Faye elicits all the right notes of an odd little biopic.

But odd and little are drawbacks also. With such a niche corner of culture to occupy, The Eyes of Tammy Faye must include a workhorse mentality. Showalter has done well to cast Garfield and Chastain, two hard-working stars that elevate the material significantly, but the documentary blur that opens the film weighs their efforts down slightly. As brief it may be, having the opening credits introduce and explain everything about this couple removes the opportunity and energy any exciting reveal can bring. Pearlygate, one interviewee says was “rather like Watergate,” and considering that is now embedded in the minds of an audience, that is what they shall expect.

To expect an Earth-shattering result from that is folly. Where Chastain may flourish with an unknowable individual at the forefront, The Eyes of Tammy Faye relies on the eponymous performance all too much. There is no support around Chastain that occupies the early years or the understandable, wavering moments of the heyday at the height of her powers. That vain transition is an interesting one, though, and those brief stretches throughout the 1990s are typically interesting and handled well by a strong Chastain performance. Showalter is keen to show the influences Faye had through her early years, and why she went down the route of self-righteous preaching. It makes sense, to some degree. Cherry Jones’ supporting role as Faye’s mother is an interesting one, but not a performance that will linger for too long on the fabric of this feature.

Ultimately, The Eyes of Tammy Faye will live or die not on the perspective of Garfield or Jones or even Vincent D’Onforio, but on Chastain. She is capable of elevating this material to great heights and manages half the battle. The other half is up to Showalter, though, who can never quite break free from the conundrum of generic biopic material. A formula is presented and hard to break free from. Cheery church-goers taken advantage of, The Eyes of Tammy Faye may be a test not for those who were sucked in and chewed out by television evangelicalism, but those who do hold within them a genuine faith. It is tough to see the extreme side of that, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye holds no shocking punches. Except for Garfield’s accent. Quite the gut punch that one.

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