THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE sparkle.
Jessica Chastain delivers a marvelous performance in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. She sounds terrific, looks good, and pulls all the right levers, from flirty to bright to over the top and vulnerable. The clever screenplay by Abe Sylvia, based on the documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, is directed with style and confidence by Michael Showalter. The film looks period-perfect and moves briskly from Tammy Faye’s country upbringing to the horrors brought about by the marriage of television and evangelism.
But it is Cherry Jones whose powerful performance as Tammy’s mother, Rachel, anchors the film to be more than fluff. She does not comprehend how the heights her daughter reaches are legal or moral. With echoes of Mama Rose and Gypsy Rose Lee, Jones’s character is not afraid to question who is funding the grossly extravagant houses, pools, and clothing in which her daughter luxuriates. The scene where Rachel is gifted a full-length fur coat should be studied in masterclasses for the specificity and contradictory emotions captured by Jones.
The admirable Andrew Garfield immerses himself in the complex role of Tammy’s husband, Jim Bakker. But this is not his movie, and his big scenes seem stagey, and his transformation over the decades is not as startling as Chastain’s. I was disheartened to learn that Jim Bakker is free from prison and back in the TV ministry.
When Tammy Faye returns to the stage, Showalter’s brilliant mix of reality and fantasy come barreling home. I was horrified and crying at the same time.
The excellent score blending songs from the past is by Theodore Shapiro. The crisp cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis. The design team includes excellent work by Art Director Charles Varga, Production Designer Laura Fox, and Costume Designer Mitchell Travers.
Tammy Faye took many opportunities to bring LGBTQ people into her television ministry, and this film is wise to include those. Her addiction, make-up, and life embraced impossible contradictions making her the blunt of SNL, drag performances, and other cruelties. Those
same qualities also made her a hero to some in the LGBTQ communities. In Chasten’s remarkable work, like Renée Zellweger’s work in the great JUDY from 2019, we see her heroic, impuslive heart and share her soul.