You know, faith-based movies get a bad rap nowadays. It’s a well-deserved bad rap thanks to the years of just absolutely awful Christian movies that have graced cinemas, but a bad rap nonetheless. I understand why directors keep making Christian movies however because faith sells. Belief is a business and if people will go to a movie theater to get some kind of reassurance on their spirituality, then there is profit to be made. It’s a message that, ironically enough, was conveyed to me while sitting in an absolutely deserted theater for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a biopic looking at one of the most influential and popular televangelists of the 80s and the empire built by her and her husband.
But while I may cringe at the persecution complex of the God’s Not Dead series and be mortified at the jaw-droppingly repulsive Unplanned, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is one of the few religious movies that I feel actually gets some things right. I don’t profess to be a religious man, and I’m not a scholar on Christian cinema, but out of all of the Christian movies I’ve seen in my life, this is probably the best one I’ve seen.
That doesn’t mean the movie is good though. It just means that compared to the religious movies that choked on their own vomit while passed out drunk at a bar, The Eyes of Tammy Faye had the wisdom to call itself an Uber after a few drinks and go home before making a complete fool of itself.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Director: Michael Showalter
Release Date: September 17, 2021 (Theatrical)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a biographical look at Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain), who for all of her life wanted to sing at churches and preach the joys of Christianity. She eventually finds companionship and love in the form of Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), who over the course of several decades, go from a simple traveling husband and wife duo to founding a Christian television station with over 20 million daily viewers that were totally on the up and up and not committing fraud, embezzlement, or misusing donations whatsoever. Okay, Jim totally was, but Tammy was actually pretty alright and kind!
No matter which way I shake it, I’ve seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye dozens of times before, at least in its premise. Two people with good intentions start off small and want to make it big, but once they achieve their fame and fortune then things begin to spiral out of control until karma comes to catch up with them. I was reminded a lot of The Wolf of Wall Street with how the movie was structured and where it would eventually go, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a movie about the Bakkers and their Praise the Lord Club, also known as PTL. It was a movie about Tammy Faye.
Jessica Chastain delivers an incredibly solid performance as Tammy Faye, conveying such sincerity and joy at every angle. Tammy wants to help people no matter who they are and that kindness is always evident. You can’t help but smile when Tammy tries to make her mom feel beautiful by getting her a new coat or when she has a heartfelt interview with an AIDS patient and tells them she loves them, something many Christians at the time would abhor to do. You could always feel for Tammy, both at the joys and the sorrows of her life. Chastain throws herself into this performance which results in her being the undisputed best thing about the film.
Which is a shame to admit because outside of Chastain, there’s really nothing about The Eyes of Tammy Faye to unequivocally recommend. The first half of the film is fairly dull, jumping quickly from milestone to milestone in Tammy’s life. We cut from Tammy and Jim talking about how they’re going to become famous and wealthy to them just being famous and wealthy. The make-up is also pretty weak with the exception of Chastains outfits and looks. Chastain is the only one who ages throughout the film. Tammy’s mother looks the same for three decades of in-universe time and the only reason I could tell that Andrew Garfield was aging was because make-up made his hair more grey in later scenes.
Plus numerous parts of the film don’t really feel all too fleshed out. Tammy’s drug addiction is just presented to the audience without any meaningful build-up, leaving us to just accept that she becomes addicted to drugs later in her life. Then there’s Tammy’s blind faith in Jim never really being addressed or discussed in any meaningful way. Whenever he does something terrible to her or manipulates her for profit, we never hear why she does it. We see them argue behind the scenes and put on a happy face in front of the camera, but that devotion she feels to him just comes across as naivete.
But while elements feel like they need some more time to breathe, a lot of the movie just feels boring to sit through. Scenes where Jim is trying to convince people to invest in PTL, or Tammy performing for audiences feel drawn out and unnecessary. Combine that with a fairly drab presentation, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye becomes a chore at times to sit through. However, I was able to push myself through it if only for the incredibly over-the-top moments of American Christianity that made me realize that oh God, this is how the rest of the world sees us. A bunch of white people singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” while American flags are waving in the background with audiences crying tears of joy. This is a thing that actually happens at the end of the movie. Oof.
But in all seriousness, I do enjoy the condemnation that the film puts on the mega-churches and televangelists that still feels relevant today. Tammy questions towards the end of the film if they were actually teaching people that they could only be happy if they were wealthy and that thought mortifies her. While her husband and his pals worry exclusively about Democrats possibly removing their tax-exemption status, Tammy is doing her best to teach compassion and empathy to everyone, Christian or not. When the credits rolled, I had no doubt in my mind that she was a good Christian woman.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is not a perfect movie, not by a long shot. The only reason you would realistically want to watch this movie is to see an Oscar-worthy performance by Jessica Chastain. That’s a pretty big reason and I can say that as a biographical feature, I did learn a fair bit about its subject. It’s just that the rest of the package feels so standard, so unambitious in its execution or delivery that nothing else stands out about it. I honestly would have preferred a bit of that good ol’ Christian persecution because then I could at least have a laugh or feel something about the film. As it stands, it’s competent, but competency isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?