Stream it or skip it?

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Now on HBO Max after a brief theatrical release in 2021, Tammy Faye’s eyes is a reminder of the good old days, when gross hypocrisy could actually ruin a person. These days, the moral reprobates double down on their bullshit and carry on, don’t they? Either way, the film takes the 2000 documentary of the same title and sets it in motion, casting Jessica Chastain as The Eyelash’d One, Tammy Faye and Andrew Garfield as its smarmy Jim hubs, and following the highs and lows of their shameless, shameless careers as con-artist-Christian-evangelist TV hosts. Its goal is to move beyond the delightful but mean-spirited mid-’80s schadenfreude that the Bakker saga forged and reframe Tammy Faye as a flawed human with a good spirit; now let’s see if it succeeds.

The essential: The movie starts in 1994 and then jumps back to 1952, so get ready for a decades-long biopic. Hoo boy? Yeah, sort of, hoo boy. The turn of the century scene focuses on the thing in the title, eyeliner permanently on top of the lips permanently lipliners, which are pretty much what we remember most from a certain vintage about Tammy Faye: excess cosmetics. We’ll come back to this scene later in the film, because now we come back to young Tammy (Chandler Head), who yearns powerfully to go to church in International Falls, Minnesota, where the congregants are all acting very disturbingly possessed. by the LAWD. But she can’t get in even though her mom (Cherry Jones) is the piano player, because Tammy is a child divorcee, and that’s just outrageous, even if it’s mostly in the eyes of assholes. Tammy sneaks around anyway and ends up writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues, which is sure to be an auspicious way to experience the transcendent joy of religion for the first time, especially if you eventually become the immortal Tammy Faye.

It’s now 1960 and Tammy Faye (Chastain) is going to Bible college, where she takes a big chunk out of Jim Bakker’s (Garfield) claim that their god doesn’t want them to be poor. Material wealth, well, it’s right there in the scripture if you look. Next thing you know, they really try not to grope each other’s erogenous zones – he describes her breasts as “clusters of fruit”, the drumstick – and fail. They’re only humans, remember! In 1965, they are married, so it’s OK to have sex while God is watching, and also begin to realize their dream of spreading the gospel and filling their coffers, via a revival tour with Jim preaching and Tammy Faye singing and the two performing puppet shows so they can have them early when they’re impressionable. Moments after Jim’s carrier-sized Cadillac – foreshadowing an alert – is pushed back outside their shitty motel, a man approaches them with a TV contract in hand. “These puppets touched me deeply,” the man says, proving that the clearest way to draw closer to Christ is through chilling double meanings.

And so begins the Bakkers’ career of televangelism, which builds layer upon layer, much like Tammy Faye’s makeup. They hang out with Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio!), and skip Jim only on Club 700 to him and Tammy alone with The PTL-Club, a program that eventually became a satellite network with 20 million viewers, all of whom pretty much sent the Bakkers’ money which they used for charity, except when funding their luxurious lifestyle. (Be sure to pronounce that “loosh” with a lot of flair, e.g., “looooooosshhhhhh.”) It seems people are enamored, mesmerized, and dazzled by the Bakker characters, who make pollyannas look like John Wayne Gacy.

But pollyannas don’t – you already know that. They slip here and there and the marriage becomes strained. They have a few kids along the way somewhere, and given how the movie presents them, I think their names are Neglecto and After Thought. There are rumors of financial disparities and the press tries to nibble on the golden tower they erected (please note choice of words) to show their love for the lord, but Tammy Faye is somehow immune to it. dodgy accounting. She hits the Ativan a little too hard, but also ruffles Falwell’s naughty feathers by promoting penis pumps for people with erectile dysfunction – it’s a real problem, she argues – and showing some compassion for homosexuals and those who suffer from AIDS. We also know that their empire is destined to crumble under the weight of their immense greed and fallibility. The rains are gonna come, and boy, the mascara is gonna run.

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE FILM 2021
Photo: ©Images Searchlight

What movies will this remind you of? : Chastain playing Tammy Faye is a lot like Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill (darkest hour) or Meryl Streep playing Julia Child (Julia and Julia) or Margot Robbie playing Tonya Harding (Me Tonya) or Al Pacino playing Jimmy Hoffa (The Irishman) or or or…

Performance to watch: Chastain is the star here, no doubt, delivering a not-quite-Oscar-caliber performance — more like a fifth Oscar-nominated type performance in a weak year. Please don’t take this as low praise; she is terrific and the best reason to watch the movie.

Memorable dialogue: A devotee’s gleeful exhortation as young Tammy is fully possessed by the LAWD: “She’s peeing herself, praise God!”

Sex and skin: Just some gropey, straddling non-nude scenes that God surely thinks are perfectly PG-13.

Our opinion : This week in Let’s Remember Some Major Mid-’80s Schadenfreude, we have Tammy Faye’s eyes, which is thick with prosthetic facial adornments, but a bit thin in storytelling details. Luckily, Chastain gives a compelling, complex performance under a few convincing wads of cheek putty, or the film could be little more than Jim and Tammy Faye’s Biggest Failures. Director Michael Showalter (The big sick) comes precariously close to the perpetuation of caricatures, pausing just short of gaping at the superhuman excesses of its characters. They’re filthy and smarmy in their piety – Garfield embraces that, reducing Jim to the purest personification of whining – and they got what they deserved. But it’s too easy to think that there is nothing left in the story, to understand the why beyond the how.

And that’s where Chastain taps into the heart of Tammy Faye’s character, flawed as she is. The performance implies that she was driven by a desire to perform, to love and be loved, and by extension, to ultimately use her platform for good. Of course, she’s complicit in all shameless scams and should take some responsibility for their misdeeds, whether she’s chosen to look the other way by stuffing her closet with mink or just doesn’t have a clue. (both can be true). Chastain carries all of this into his characterization, even if the film doesn’t fully capitalize on the current moment, when we as a culture are reassessing the Britneys and Lewinskys of the world, stripping their narratives of sensationalism and seeing beyond the gossip of the tabloids and bad late-night comedic monologues. One scene shows Tammy Faye making her way next to Jim at the male televangelists’ dinner table – where the main course is hot dogs! — and the film could make more use of such moments with greater contextual implications and fewer boilerplate biographical montages, which flood the story with unnecessary kitsch.

The film’s conventional angles make it feel like a wasted opportunity, a lazy, stereotypical outing that leans too heavily on its charismatic star. The script touches on Falwell’s growing right-wing political influence in a scene or three, placing it at odds with Tammy’s culturally liberal leanings. D’Onofrio glares and strikes a cartoonishly jerky cadence as his Falwell brags about helping Reagan get re-elected, and simmers as he watches Tammy Faye compassionately interview Steven Pieters, a gay man with AIDS, on The PTL-Club (a real event scripted almost verbatim here). But Showalter never leverages conflict into meaningful drama. Tammy Faye’s eyes mostly reiterates familiar biographical highs and lows for their entertainment value, exploiting the garish lifestyle of its subjects and giving us wide-eyed porn wigs. The laughs seem a little cheap, but Chastain breaks through the facade and persuades us that Tammy Faye is a not-so-definable woman, fallible, empathetic, and not so deserving of the butt of the joke.

Our call: Tammy Faye’s eyes Of course, the biopic about the Bakkers, and never really asserts the relevance of the story. But the you-probably-want-to-see-Chastain-play-Tammy-Faye factor is high, so I say STREAM IT with some reservations.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

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