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The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an evangelical roller coaster ride

Jessica Chastain’s performance offers some redemption for the disgraced televangelist.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is The Wolf of Wall Street with Christianity. It’s a fast-paced, wildly entertaining ride through the life story of two of the world’s most notorious televangelist figures. 

The film stars Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. At the height of their careers, the couple had over 20 million daily viewers tuned in to their religious PTL Satellite Network with a reported $1-million coming in weekly from viewer donations. The two were a high flying pair, using the funds on megachurches, studio space, Christian theme parks, with plenty left for their own enjoyment.

It is a genuine delight to see the career arc of director Michael Showalter. The goofy creator of Wet Hot American Summer has progressed to heavyweight territories while never leaving behind his charming sense of humour. Tammy Faye is by no means a comedy but Showalter works laughter into the picture via the absurdity of his subjects.

“There are similarities,” Showalter explained to Cult MTL at the film’s premiere, comparing Wet Hot to Tammy Faye. 

“They both take place in the ’80s. In a way, it’s almost the same thing to me. I just remember that time, I remember how I felt. I think there’s a feeling I have, that everybody deserves to be seen as a human being. Not that Wet Hot American Summer is a serious movie but there is a theme running through it of ‘be who you are.’ For anyone who knows the movie very well, that is the mantra. Tammy Faye stood for that, too.”

Jessica Chastain and other cast members from The Eyes of Tammy Faye at TIFF 2021.

Choosing to focus the film on Tammy Faye instead of the couple as a whole or Jim Bakker specifically makes for a more captivating film. Like the 2000 documentary it’s based on, the story is presented from her perspective in the film. Showalter also implements a “less is more” strategy, leaving plenty to the imagination for audiences to piece together the entire story.

This film is sure to earn plenty of awards buzz. Jessica Chastain as the titular character takes viewers on an odyssey. Tammy Faye Bakker was a fish out of water in her conservative world, someone who maintained her Christian values while maintaining an open mind towards people outside of her circle and lifestyle. Chastain transitions through decades of Bakker’s lifetime. She meets each era with a new energy, without trailing away from the character’s core personality as an empathetic individual. 

Serving as a co-producer for the feature, Chastain has emphasized wanting to do right by Tammy Faye. The actress gives a performance as nuanced as it is endearing. Some of her best moments come while singing gospel tunes. Through her vocal delivery, Chastain helps paint the picture of Faye and her husband as spiritual leaders who ultimately lack soul.

Aside from excellent acting, The Eyes of Tammy Faye also thrives in its art direction. Chastain looks virtually unrecognizable as the film progresses. She cakes herself up in layers of prosthetic skin, makeup and fake lashes. It would be nothing short of a dismay to see this film snubbed at the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

September film releases are often a toss-up. These features tend to be either the earliest of award contenders, or potential flops that the studio has already written-off. The Eyes of Tammy Faye shows two dynamic performances from two Hollywood heavyweights in both Andrew Garfield and, particularly, Jessica Chastain. 

Though there’s nothing out of the ordinary in its biopic storytelling, the film is handled with care by both director Michael Showalter and his actors. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an important American story that will make viewers think twice about the way they perceive this Christian cultural fixation.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 17.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye, directed by Michael Showalter.

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