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  • Jared Huizenga

‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’: Powerful Performances Lift an Otherwise Average Biopic

Having been alive during the scandal surrounding Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I assumed I had a decent grasp of what had taken place and of the infamous evangelical couple.


I assumed wrong.

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’ (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

The first hint that I might have been missing some critical pieces to the story came immediately upon strolling into the theater lobby before the preview screening of ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’


While waiting for my concessions, I noticed a man of similar height and build to myself (think husky pants) in dramatic makeup (lots of powder, long lashes, lipstick, etc.) and, if memory serves correctly, a long black dress that was either Bedazzled or sequined. I recognized this cosplay/drag getup (not sure which term applies here) as the caricature version of Tammy Faye I remember seeing in my teenage years.


“This night,” I thought, “has taken an unexpected turn.”


It turns out that Tammy Faye’s support of the LGBTQ+ community (at least relative to other televangelists) had completely flown under my radar. As had the fact that Tammy Faye grew up in International Falls; that she and Jim met at North Central Bible College (now North Central University) in Minneapolis; that they’d built a Christian water park; or that Jim had once been the host of ‘The 700 Club.’


It turns out I knew more about Jessica Hahn (who accused Jim and another preacher of rape) than the Bakkers … not because of the scandal, but because of Sam Kinison’s ‘Wild Thing’ video.


These are all things I learned during ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye,’ which, if Google is to be believed, is a relatively accurate depiction of the story.

Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’ (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

‘Eyes’ starts off in the aforementioned International Falls, where a young Tammy wants more than anything to be part of her family’s church community. Due to circumstances beyond her control, that seemingly simple desire is quite challenging … but she (hilariously) finds a way.


From there, a now grown Tammy (Jessica Chastain) begins attending college in Minneapolis to become a preacher, where a young, dynamic fellow student named Jim (Andrew Garfield) catches her eye (and ears). The young couple experiences a whirlwind courtship, which leads to a quick marriage, two college withdrawals, a temporary return to I-Falls, and a shared vision of traveling the country spreading the word of God through preaching (Jim) and song (Tammy).


On their way to the top of the televangelism ladder, the couple encounters powerful frenemies like televangelists Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio), and allies whose missions focus less on the word of God and more on the pocketbooks of the Bakker’s parishioners/viewers.


As we now know, the wheels eventually came off for virtually everyone involved. And they came off in spectacular – stop in traffic to see the car crash – fashion.

Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’ (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

The star of the show is undoubtedly Chastain. When I first saw the trailer for this movie a few months back, I couldn’t recognize Chastain. When I saw it again a few weeks later, I’d forgotten it was Chastain and again couldn’t recognize her. Part of that, obviously, is because nobody in Tammy Faye makeup has a chance of looking like themselves. The rest is because Chastain truly transforms into the title character and delivers in spades. I’m not sure an Oscar win is in her future, but a nomination is a virtual lock.


Not to be (completely) outdone, Garfield packs a punch as the disgraced preacher. Garfield brings the sniveling blowhard of ‘80s Bible “PPV” to life and makes him an almost immediately and eternally unlikeable, a villain who you actively cheer against throughout. But through no fault of his own, I was acutely aware that I was watching the Spider-Man that didn’t get a third movie. It was simply because Chastain was just so good.


The same can be said of D'Onofrio, whose Falwell is almost as dreadful as the actual Falwell – lying, egotistical, hateful, sleazy, manipulating. The shared scenes between Tammy and Jerry alone are worth the price of admission, as are those featuring Tammy’s mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), and stepfather, Fred (Fredric Lehne).

Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye.’ (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is a great movie. If we’re being honest, I’m not even sure I can call it a good movie. The true story was too bombastic to condense into 120(ish) without glossing over a lot of things that added to a larger picture. You never really discover if it was their plan all along to bilk their followers; if Tammy Faye was complicit or simply a gullible pawn with good intentions; the true vileness of old school televangelism; or the full extent of the blowback Tammy faced, warranted or otherwise. All of those things could have painted a fuller picture, but instead we “settle” for an extended look/listen to the Tammy Faye discography, which again if we’re being honest, is pretty incredible (in the worst way possible).


But what I can tell you, is that the film is eye-opening (again, if Google is to be believed), often hilarious, sometimes sad, oozing with glorious cheesiness befitting the times it took place in, and is brimming with powerful individual performances.


★★★½ of ★★★★★