Friday, April 1, 2022

The Eyes of Tammy Faye


Ever since she was young, Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) has always had a knack for theatrics and performing, something that will come handy one day as she decides to tread the path of a servant of the lord. Her passion is further fueled when she meets charismatic pastor-wannabe Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at bible college. The two hit it off right away and embark on a tour of the Midwest as husband and wife, him preaching and her singing. Capitalizing on children as their primary audience, the duo soon catches the attention of Catholic television bigwigs and soon enough they are headlining their own religious talk show in a broadcast seen all over the country. As their popularity and ambitions soar, they soon find themselves founding their own religious TV network. As cash and devotees pour in, so do their problems. Up to what point can you really exploit the word of God for personal gain?

My bet for that Oscar was Kristen Stewart for much of the awards circuit campaign period. I didn’t pay attention to Chastain who seemed to be the dark horse. After witnessing her transformation as Tammy Faye, it is easy to understand how she brought the statuette home. While her and Stewart’s respective roles have been both transformative, the latter’s portrayal focuses on a rather specific and fictional point of her character’s life. The former, on the contrary, breezes through the various stages of Tammy Faye’s lifetime, which gives you a broader variety and a more convincing character arc to latch onto.

Chastain nailing the role is one thing, but it would be unfair to her onscreen partner to get set aside, even though it is obvious that Garfield has been overshadowed by his counterpart here. Perhaps that is also the reason why he got nominated for his take on Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick... Boom! instead, which is evidently more Oscar-bait than the Jim Bakker role. Nevertheless, it takes two to tango, and Chastain wouldn’t have shined that brightly had her performance not been complemented by Garfield’s.

While everybody seems to be in unison as far as praises for the acting are concerned, the criticism of the screenplay also seems unanimous to some extent. Perhaps it has something to do with the subject matter? The portrayals are hilarious and appear borderline caricature, but this can be justified by the people they are playing and their demeanor in real life. The story, on the other hand, is just horrendous. Personally, I’ll never understand how people allow charismatic demagogues to extort money from them to stroke their egos vis-à-vis a religious standpoint. Unfortunately, this does happen in real life.

And maybe that is another reason why the narrative is suspect, appearing to have an ulterior motive in the form of a redemption angle for Tammy Faye. One can argue that she might have been innocent after all and her husband is all to blame for their scams, but perhaps she just got lucky by building a definitive image considered endearing to certain demographics. Whatever your assessment of her persona might be, the way her character is framed in this film is so obvious in giving her the redemption they think she deserved. Either way, her humanity shines through, which is probably what’s important. The humanity buried under all that heavy makeup.

Overall, The Eyes of Tammy Faye will not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you force yourself to watch the movie, it would be best to focus on the acting more than anything else, in order to find something that you can appreciate despite the screenplay’s evident flaws.

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