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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

****
2021

‘…delving deep into a monstrous figure and coming up with something resembling humanity; it’s not an easy trick, but Chastain absolutely pulls it off…’

The 2022 best actress race has enough strong entries to make for a vintage year; Lady Gaga for House of Gucci, Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardo’s, Kristen Stewart for Spencer, Jennifer Hudson for Respect. Right in with the rest of the pack is Jessica Chastain’s sterling work as controversial televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. While the issues involved in Bakker’s story are complex enough to make a biopic a tricky affair, and liberties are taken, it’s hard to argue with Chastain’s performance, which features the grotesque physical transformation that awards voters seem to remember when it comes to ticking boxes online.

Abe Sylvia’s script takes inspiration from a 2000 documentary film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, but Michael Showalter’s drama manages to whip up a head of drama on its own. Tammy Faye (Chastian) has big dreams, and when she meets Jim Bakker (man of the moment Andrew Garfield), the two find a common cause in creating a broadcasting network that artfully separates their congregation from their hard-earned money and boosts their personal wealth. But Jim Bakker has secrets of his own, rules are being broken, transgressions made, and as things fall apart, Tammy Faye has issues keeping home, faith and work afloat…

The key issue here, oddly enough for those not familiar with the story, is homosexuality, and Tammy Faye’s unwillingness to toe the line taken by the powerful men around her with regards to those suffering from AIDS in the 80’s. It’s a redeeming character trait, and one that’s much needed; otherwise Tammy Faye is a somewhat absurd figure, quick to organise a song and dance musical routine, but somewhat innocent of her husband’s crooked business and personal affairs until it’s far too late to save herself. She’s an unconventional protagonist, but her story should move audiences thanks to this one specific grace-note.

The fall of the house of Bakker makes for an absorbing watch, with Garfield turning in another strong performance in a hot streak that includes Tick Tick Boom and the latest Spiderman movie. But Chastain is the awards-friendly tour-de force, delving deep into a monstrous figure and coming up with something resembling humanity; it’s not an easy trick, but Chastain absolutely pulls it off and makes this a surprisingly interesting film about a less-than-laudable person. The Eyes of Tammy Faye didn’t make many waves at the US box office on initial release, but today’s furore about Spotify’s direct contribution to the obscene virus death figures in the US makes the issues here absurdly prescient; being good at making money isn’t the only thing that should count, and life has a way of bringing stark justice to those who choose to lose their moral compass for a quick buck.

Thanks to Searchlight Pictures UK for access to this film, out Feb 4th in UK cinemas.

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  1. I’m fascinated by this story, and I will see this one soon. When you listed them out, it really has been a banner year for some of Hollywood’s best actresses, hasn’t it?

    • And that’s ignoring some very prominent alternative candidates. That’s a stronger shortlist than the male acting category IMHO.

      There’s an issue right now with media, and fundraising, whereby finding a cause is a great way to enhance your own personal wealth, and religion is unfortunately to focus for much of this activity. Tammy Faye’s story is a horror story of our times, but it’s not exactly a punch-the-air feelgood story; there’s no real winners here other than the actors who really do a turn.

      • Watched this last night. Enjoyed is not exactly the right word, but glad I watched it. It’s not clear to me exactly how I feel about the TF portrayed in the film. Taking the real life TF out of it, and just concentrating on this one….she is best case scenario essentially an loving airhead. I did not really sympathize with her, nor did I relish her downfall. I almost had more disdain for their unseen marks…..as I could not imagine who in the world would give them (or any of these ridiculous TV preachers) their money.
        Chastain’s portrayal did remind me at times of both her character in The Help and Sara Palin.

        • Agree on all points; TF is a well-known figure in the States, less so elsewhere, so some audiences will see this without any knowledge of the real person. She’s a long way from a saint, and yet there’s something sad about the way she sees almost everything as an excuse for an old style musical number. You’re right that it’s not the most involving film, stories about con-artists rarely take a moment to look at the victims; it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would stump up for such clear fraud, and yet people still do. The Palin comparison is a good one; I’ve looked at Gamechanger, the Julianne Moore movie about Palin, and it’s ahead of the curve at looking at how celebrity distorts politics. Must get around to writing something about that one…

        • I hear you, and based on the evidence in this film, you’re not wrong. I guess that’s a message most people already understand, so the acting would be the draw here…

          • I’m all for good acting but like a good story too. Also thanks for the Copshop shout thouroughly enjoyed it. Unlikely to pick up any awards for acting (Alexis Louder exempt-she’s one to watch!) but it was a hoot, very Tarentinoesque I thought.

            • Glad you enjoyed Copshop, will get around to reviewing it soon, but happy to hear you liked it!

  2. I’ll probably see this. I vaguely remember Kevin Spacey as Jim Bakker years ago.

    Does it make a big thing about her being able to see through the eyes of the killer?

    Chastain’s i and a are transposed in first para. Bakker lost one of his k’s in the second para.

    • Typos fixed, thanks.

      As a sequel to The Eyes of Laura Mars, it doesn’t quite have the same magic; there’s no sign of the Faye Dunaway character, and the remote vision theme isn’t really developed. Look forward to your thoughts on this…

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