“Stop performing,” said Tammy’s mother Rachel to a young Tammy Faye. Little did she likely know that her daughter would go on to be one of the most infamous televangelists in the world — a performer nonetheless. But behind all of the makeup and sparkles was a broken woman, and Jessica Chastain delivers her best performance to date in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Needless to say, all attention Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) for the entirety of the runtime. Chastain absolutely disappears into this role, nailing Faye’s mannerisms from her chuckle to her Fargo accent. The makeup team also deserves major props, as Chastain is unrecognizable. Her performance is honest, which is why The Eyes of Tammy Faye works compared to most other biopics. Tammy Faye may not have been the manipulative wimp that her husband was (more on that later), but she did unfortunately go along with a lot of shady business, even guilt-tripping viewers on television. She’s flawed, but is also neglected to such an extreme. Faye’s makeup, as ridiculous as it occasionally is, serves as the definition of smiling through the pain. It’s hard not to sympathize with such a character, one who had to let go of a really good catch in Gary Paxton (Mark Wystrach). The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a tragic character study of a woman who never could emancipate herself from a crappy situation. Very seldom does a biopic show you the later years of the subject, and it is much appreciated of The Eyes of Tammy Faye to do that. By the end, Faye is driving around in a beat-up Honda Accord, having to pitch herself to networks (to no avail).
Andrew Garfield has been on a roll with films featuring religious themes: Hacksaw Ridge, Silence, and now The Eyes of Tammy Faye. While his performance isn’t quite as deep as that of Chastain, he perfectly mimics the cadence of Jim Bakker. There’s a sweetness and warmth to his voice that is hard to deny, yet he displays a shady side. As Bono once said in the Rattle and Hum performance of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bakker is caught “stealing money from the sick, and the old.” While that remark may have been about Jerry Falwell (another figure featured in the film), but the sentiment remains for Bakker, who repeatedly manipulated both his viewers and his own wife in the film and real life.
“Debate is what brings us to unity,” says Vincent D’Onofrio during a conversation at a party. The real Jerry Falwell went on to build a one-sided Conservative school. Like Chastain, Vincent D’Onofrio is also hidden beneath heavy cosmetics in an attempt to embody the famous evangelist Jerry Falwell. With sly remarks and condescending looks D’Onofrio perfectly displays a man that created a group called “The Moral Majority,” and whose son got caught in a mess involving pool boy while running a school that has mandatory church services numerous times a week.
Not everything can be as sparkly as Faye’s makeup, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye is no stranger to the usual conventions of biopics. There are montages, with one serving to show the Bakker’s rise, while the other bombards the screen with headlines about their fraud. The second montage also plays a lot like Rocketman, seeing Faye begin abusing her prescribed drugs. There are a lot of scenes that are telegraphed from a mile away, but are still effective.
All eyes will naturally be on Tammy Faye, but it is well deserved. Will a film about televangelist fraud pique the interest of general audiences? It’s unlikely, but Chastain deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least, and may even have a chance of winning. Maybe Faye didn’t end up being the “trooper for God” that “The Moral Majority” would approve of, but you cannot deny her impact on bringing progression to the Christian sphere. It’s occasionally redundant, but The Eyes of Tammy Faye is easily one of the best films of the year. With a limited release this weekend, try to catch this if you can.