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The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Michael Showalter
scr Abe Sylvia
prd Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael, Rachel Shane, Gigi Pritzker
with Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mark Wystrach, Sam Jaeger, Louis Cancelmi, Gabriel Olds, Fredric Lehne, Chandler Head, Alan Boell, Lila Jane Meadows
release US 17.Sep.21,
21/US Searchlight 2h06
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A biopic about the colourful tele-evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, this film strikes a careful balance between drama and satire, infused with absurdly comical touches that poke fun at religion without disparaging honest Christianity. Expanding on the 2000 documentary of the same title, director Michael Showalter and writer Abe Sylvia create a striking drama that cuts through its own camp surfaces to recount a serious story about real compassion.
After a religious childhood, Tammy (Chastain) met aspiring preacher Jim (Garfield) at Bible college. They married quickly and became travelling preachers. Jim's sermons about how God wants them to live the high life sit uneasy with Tammy, but she dives into the ministry with her music and puppetry. And when they begin preaching on television, their PTL network and Heritage theme park become national phenomena. But Tammy struggles to remain true to what she knows is right, criticised by evangelicals for reaching out Aids patients. Then in 1987, financial and sexual scandals took Jim down.
Tammy Faye was an extraordinary figure who used her eyelashes as a trademark. Combined with her caring comments about the LGBT+ community, a rarity in evangelical Christianity, it's hardly surprising that she became an icon for drag queens. The film carefully shows how much deeper her faith runs than high-profile preachers like Jerry Falwell (D'Onofrio) and Pat Robertson (Olds), countering their outspoken hatred with her genuine love for all people. Of course she enjoys the opulent lifestyle, but she remains engaged with people who need to feel that someone cares about them.
Because Tammy and Jim are outrageous in real life, the performances sometimes feel a bit broad and gimmicky, but Chastain and Garfield dig deep to reveal the real people under the wide smiles, big hair and lavish lifestyle. Chastain unapologetically maintains Tammy's buoyant approach and refusal to be the expected invisible wife, adding resilient steeliness in the final act. Garfield finds surprising textures in the clearly repressed Jim. And the superb Jones is riveting as Tammy's stern mother.
Using a documentary approach to highlight truth without shouting it, this film is a knowing depiction of the still-popular "God loves you, so send us your money" movement. It cuts through garishness with a strong sense of the hypocrisy of prosperity theology, which is essentially greed for money and power. Of course Tammy Faye was never as oblivious as the media made her out to be: she certainly knew the power of showmanship.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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