“Oh, Tammy Faye. You follow blindly. In the end, all you are is blind.”
The story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker is a controversial one. The two, with their lucrative religious organization called Praise the Lord, schemed millions of people into giving them money for what should of been “helping the less fortunate” or “spreading God’s word,” but in turn was just for houses and lavish items for themselves. This type of film often pleases no one in the process. You have those who have no interest in religion that don’t want to sit for two hours as characters sing “Jesus keeps takin’ me higher and higher!” On the other hand, those religious folks don’t want to see something that they can closely identify with dripping with such negativity. Having no interest in the subject matter, The Eyes of Tammy Faye wasn’t first on my “most anticipated” list, but, from beginning to end, it wowed me.
For those that don’t know me, I have long been a fan of Jessica Chastain. Ever since I saw her in 2011’s, Take Shelter, I was taken aback by her talents. With every role, Chastain is able to exceed what she has done before—constantly pushing the boundaries of her acting. This time Chastain takes on Tammy Faye, a rather complex woman. She’s naive, but deep within she’s also a strong woman. The film obviously paints Tammy in a more positive light, and by doing so, shows her pushing her husband Jim to go further with the television side of preaching. However, Jim doesn’t need much pushing as he’s “spoken to God” and there’s a future in television for him.
The film goes into Tammy’s childhood when she wasn’t allowed to attend church due to her mother’s “sinful ways,” and Tammy being an outcome of that. The rest of her family, including her mother, but only because of her mother’s piano playing, was able to attend, but Tammy was left at home alone. If this part of the story is true, you can see where Tammy would push for the television part in their outreach when she tells Jim it would’ve made such a difference to hear a preacher in her home during her childhood. It’s an evolution that Tammy goes through—a rise and fall. She’s in it for helping people, or so it makes it seem, but the film also doesn’t hide her love of luxurious things.
Maybe that’s the difference between her and Jim; his mentality, as portrayed here in the film, leans towards strictly being in it for himself. Andrew Garfield has a knack for exploring religious people in some form or another as he’s done in Martin Scorsese’s, Silence and Mel Gibson’s, Hacksaw Ridge. His portrayal here as the shyster pastor is great like most of his other religious portrayals. However, Jim blurs the lines of right and wrong—a significant difference from Garfield’s previous good-natured, faithful, men. The issues of the church’s heavy hand in politics takes prevalence as the leaders of the different churches began to draw lines in the sand. This also being during the height of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s. There are many deep rooted secrets that are often insinuated, such as Jim’s closeted sexuality.
The secrets and lies only continue to unravel as you watch The Eyes of Tammy Faye. A pretty clear anti-hero, it’s hard to leave the film feeling much hate towards Tammy, but at the same time you can’t forget what she and Jim did. But in a world where there’s still a plethora of pastors that get away with this exact practice, and justify it as God’s work, it’s hard to hate on her. See what I mean? I don’t know whether I should love Tammy or not, and that’s what I love about this movie. It goes through great lengths spanning the life of a bigger-than-life woman, but leaves you to be the judge, or ask yourself, should you be the one judging her? No matter what you feel about these real-life people, The Eyes of Tammy Faye brings us Chastain in one of the best performances of her career, and one of the best female performances of 2021.
Eyes of Tammy Faye
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, and Vincent D’Onofrio