If nothing esle, the movie gives us some depth to what feels like an incredibly trite characterization living in memory.
Director Michael Showalter
Screenplay Abe Sylvia based on the documentary by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Fredric Lehne, Louis Cancelmi, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Mary Wystrach, Vincent D’Onofrio
The story of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker was a joke, precisely until the LGBT community began to recognize the former’s support for all people never did waver. That she was complicit in the theft of millions of dollars alongside her husband from faithful followers during their heyday and her squeaky baby girl voice epitomized arrested female development is secondary to the fact that she countered much of the religious right of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Her acceptance of those who had considerably less support was not forgotten once the people found their voice.
The story starts with a very young “Tam” who is kept from the local church due to the fact that her mother (Jones) had divorced her father and had remarried. She sneaks in one day as her mother plays the piano for the church (the parish had no other who could play) and before she can be stopped, begins speaking in tongues either for feeling the spirit or knowing what it might take to be accepted.
The next time we see her, she is meeting her future husband at college. They feel the sprit in the same way and move forward into the future. They are recruited by Robertson at a moment when they are praying to avoid what appears to be a catastrophe. They take it as a sign.
The challenge of The Eyes of Tammy Faye is not seeing her has human under all that makeup and that little girl voice. Most people who saw her latter day appearance on The Surreal Life had that impression already. We need to see whether she was good, bad or in between. Some of the bad is there. We know she committed adultery while pregnant with her second child. We know she was addicted to drugs. We also see her on the periphery of other, worse things. Did she know what was going on most of the time? This is not implied.
In fact, most of what the viewer experiences with The Eyes of Tammy Faye is largely the headlines with which we are already familiar. We see Baker frolic with his partner Fletcher around the time when they both are doing worse behind the scenes. We never see him do worse, even if it is implied.
Chastain, in the titular role, is almost always empathetic. That’s part of the problem. Sure Tammy Faye was a bastian for those living alternative lifestyles. She also stood idly by while people took advantage of others and she lived comfortably while begging on a very large scale. There is not enough time in a typical movie to capture the nuance of a character as complex as hers. This is nothing more than a sketch, and she deserves a full scale painting.
Other than this, performances ring true, for the most part. Bakker (Garfield) is a ridiculous, yet still seemingly faithful huckster. Falwell (D’Onofrio) is cold and callous. He is remarkably un-Christian for such a fundamentalist. That and other supporting performances help to flesh out the story we heard through media reports into something a bit more real, but it doesn’t have enough time to do more
Much of the first two acts concentrates on her relationship with her mother, who is played by an LGBT icon with a flexibility of character that adds depth of character to both mother and daughter. If nothing esle, the movie gives us some depth to what feels like an incredibly trite characterization living in memory.
(*** out of *****)