The Eyes of Tammy Faye Synopsis: In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Jim (Andrew Garfield), rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.
Religion’s pristine image often hides a culture of malpractice and emotional suppression, with both themes taking center stage in Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye. As a long-awaited passion project from star Jessica Chastain (she purchased the rights back in 2012) – I can see where Tammy Faye’s so-strange-its-true story could have big-screen appeal. Under the hood of this polished, awards-ready evangelist story, Showalter’s lack of identity prevents his feature from saying anything of note.
Chastain’s love for Tammy Faye’s colorful presence radiates in full force. The actress seamlessly disappears into the garish make-up and boisterous personality Tammy Faye effortlessly embodied. It would have been easy for her to slip into an overeager caricature, but Chastain’s deft touch finds the broken insecurity under the character’s smiling presence. Andrew Garfield is fittingly smarmy as Jim, balancing the character’s personable TV persona with a dark menace that lies just beyond the screen.
Even when The Eyes of Tammy Faye doesn’t click, Showalter’s feature shows glimmers of good intentions. As the title suggests, Abe Sylvia’s narrative frames itself inside the naive yet well-intended mind of its titular subject. Her superficial existence makes a fitting canvas for pointed satire on the church’s artificial facade – with the duo presenting a culture of acceptance and community while hemorrhaging luxury from unsuspecting patrons. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis aids the narrative device through clever techniques. His utilization of distant framing choices helps portray the corruption that existed outside of Tammy’s grasp.
While admittedly amusing, Tammy Faye doesn’t cut deep enough into its relevant subject matter. Mocking the church’s superficial and bigoted practices should open up a bounty of pointed comedic opportunities – and while the film occasionally works in a few subdued barbs, most of the narrative plays out without proper introspection. The film is ultimately far too timid for its own good, not having much bite toward religious culture aside from obvious observations.
There’s a general lack of insight preventing Sylvia’s screenplay from digging beneath the surface. The performers certainly do their best to inhabit the Fayes’ layered personas, but those quiet moments are brushed past in a favoring of breezy aesthetic choices. Showalter’s trademark competence as a director feels like a poor match for the material’s substantive undertones. Instead of zeroing on the premise’s complexities, Showalter empties the book of played-out biopic cliches as he briskly pushes audiences along without building upon the film’s foundation. There are montages and over-eager score choices galore as the film lays its cards out without dramatic grace or impact.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye’s safe delivery showcases the footnote version of its fascinating true story. I recommend viewers interested in the subject should seek out the 2000 documentary of the same name instead.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is now playing in theaters.
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