For this week’s Movie Minutes, KUNR entertainment reviewer Robin Holabird looks at a new film that explores the rise and fall of a famous televangelist.
Based on a documentary called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the feature film with the same title draws its high points from faking the real thing. This seems appropriate since Tammy Faye Bakker comes off as a genuine fake. She feels no conflict about her behaviors, though many contradict the values she preaches. She considers herself natural and righteous, truly caring for people, even though she tramples many through the fraudulent activities of her church.
With a screenplay by three writers, including two from the documentary, director Michael Showalter effectively captures Tammy Faye’s inconsistencies in opening and closing scenes. One features those eyes and a request to remove their make-up and reveal the real woman beneath. Only no one can take off the eyeliner and lip liner, because both tattooed on and representing the real, fake Tammy Faye. From there, the script backtracks into many elements found in standard biopics — the difficult childhood, a breakthrough into international fame, drugs, and eventually, a rousing song for a finale.
Of course, Tammy Faye’s distinctive point comes not from her music but with her status as an internationally famous evangelist who teamed with her husband Jim Bakker to create a phenomenal money-making venture on their Praise the Lord television station. Tethered to a factual timeline, the movie often zooms through events blandly using headlines and newsfeeds as the Bakker empire rises and falls.
Stepping in for drama, actors Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield fatten their cheeks, wear big hair, and raise their voices several octaves to eerily transform into the well-documented duo. As implied by the title, the show belongs to Chastain as Tammy, and she chomps into the role, succeeding in the difficult task of giving an outrageous woman a modicum of dignity.
Everyone involved refrains from taking a judgmental stance regarding the couple, offering no insight about the underpinnings of how their scams worked for so long, not that anyone really has any answers to that. Instead, Showalter ends with dynamic and unsettling images as Chastain beautifully expresses Tammy Faye’s passion on stage. There, she sings with fervor in a picture-perfect backdrop of red, white and blue, embodying the religion and patriotism she loved so much but failed to represent.
Robin Holabird is KUNR's entertainment reviewer, author, and former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office. You can check out all of her reviews here.