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‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is nothing to sing praises about

| Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Emma Kirner

After receiving average ratings from critics and less-than-satisfying box office sales, it’s clear why “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021) fails to reach its audience’s expectations. 

Directed by Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick,” “The Baxter”), this movie focuses on the rise and fall of televangelist Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) and her preacher husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). While the movie’s title begets the idea that the audience will be stepping into the shoes of the protagonist, it ends up doing the exact opposite.

At many times throughout the film, I found myself confused as to what the film was focusing on. Despite being the eponymous character, Tammy Faye often got lost in the background of her husband’s rising industry and nefarious dealings. Because she placed so much importance on the well-being of others in her life, scenes where she could be at the forefront displayed her as a supporting role. However, while I find it to be quite a poor choice in storytelling, her presence in the background emphasizes the feelings of isolation she had in regards to the growing PTL (Praise The Lord) Club, her husband’s ministry and God’s plan for her in life as a whole. 

What saves this film is the quality of the acting and various aspects of the cinematography. Jessica Chastain — who acquired the rights to Tammy Faye Bakker’s life in 2012 — masters the various idiosyncrasies and quirks of Faye. There is a delicate balance between Tammy’s role as a grandiose performer and a sensitive woman who longs for the approval of her loved ones that Chastain matches well. Garfield’s performance as Jim Bakker is impressive but pales in comparison to his co-star. Another aspect of this movie to be praised is the caliber and versatility of the set design, costuming and directing. It doesn’t wow audiences outright, but the effort put into making the actors’ surroundings as accurate to their time periods as possible is clearly evident. 

Something that I wished had been touched on more throughout the movie is Tammy’s work following the collapse of the PTL Club. The movie ends with her performing again for a crowd after many years of staying away from the public eye. A montage following her performance mentions her work with the LGBTQ+ community around the end of her life, but it does not give her much credit where credit is due.

One of the things that I personally found so fascinating about Tammy Faye’s story was her constant advocacy for people whom many Christians believed at the time to be sinful and unworthy of a place in the community. Tammy sought to love people as they were and uplift them to get them where they needed to be. The film definitely touches on her care for various underrepresented groups, but I believe that the lack of emphasis on this big and important part of her story leaves the audience with the question of why we should care about this woman in the first place. 

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker are two important figures in American history that many people my age have no understanding of. With the goal of teaching people about God’s love for humanity, they reached millions across the globe through their ministries and entrepreneurial endeavors. The empire they created extended into social and political spheres that grasped at the hearts and wallets of the masses. All in all, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” does a fantastic job at capturing this idea and illustrating their impact, but it fails to look through the lens of the famed woman who helped to make it all happen. 

Title: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D’Onofrio

Director: Michael Showalter

If you like: “I, Tonya,” “Molly’s Game,” “Bombshell”

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5

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About Anna Falk

Anna is Scene Editor for the 2023-2024 academic year. She is a junior studying Neuroscience and Linguistic who talks about music too much for her own good. Follow her on Spotify @annam.falk

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