Televangelism and its maestros have always been a big topic of controversy, fraud, scandal, and much worse. Over the years, the realm of televangelism has had to adopt newer and hipper ways to connect with their audiences to keep their schemes rolling in the money. These televangelists are responsible for preying on the weak-minded, conning them to fork over their money. But in the 1970s, a woman named Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim Bakker changed the Jesus game by appealing to children and their families with a myriad of puppets, songs, and celebrities. And actor/comedian/filmmaker Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) has brought Tammy and Jim's life to this narrative template with The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, based on the documentary of the same name. Despite some pacing issues and only giving a small glimpse at this odd couple through several years of their lives, Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield turn in dynamite performances as Showalter keeps the mood light, funny, and entertaining.
No matter what anyone thinks of Tammy Faye and her husband Jim, it's difficult to deny just how charismatic and downright sweet Tammy Faye was. No matter what her beliefs were, she seemed to genuinely want to help and create a safe space for people of all colors, religions, and sexual orientations. And Showalter's approach examines these elements with Tammy's guests and feelings. But Showalter's take is something fantastic and different than the usual biopic here, which with this subject matter is downright laughable and funny - in a good way. Instead of focusing heavily on all the horrific scandals of the Bakkers, Showalter heads back to his roots of Stella and Wet Hot American Summer and found the true life sillier stories from their past, including a funny interview with Tammy and the inventor of a penis pump.
There are many of these moments throughout the movie, but the even funnier sequences involve both Tammy and her husband Jim trying to be serious about their devotion to Jesus and doing the right thing, which is anything but what they did. Chastain and Garfield's over-the-top commitment to the dialogue and delivery is pitch-perfect and goes perfectly with their overly-stylized variety show. This version of The Eyes Of Tammy Faye never sympathizes with Jim or Tammy to coerce the audience into forgiving them for the harm they caused others over the years. Instead, it acts as a satire and makes fun of the rabbit hole these two went down with their off-logic views. That being said, Tammy Faye was ahead of her time, especially in this televangelist world in accepting gay people and others who were looked down upon for so long. She was a champion for them, which this movie explores a little bit.
The other side is that the pacing of this 126-minute movie feels longer than it should be and still doesn't cover a ton of aspects that were key to Tammy's life, including her second husband Roe Messner. Sure, Roe makes an appearance, but their marriage and his incarceration for fraud aren't covered here. Tammy's eventual cancer diagnosis and many more aspects of her life, including the long tumultuous relationship with Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio), only show up sporadically. The Eyes Of Tammy Faye just doesn't feel complete, but only shows certain clips from their lives that have a silly surface top to it all.
Like most biopics, they only really exist to either tell one side of a story or in this case - reveal yet another award-worthy performance from Chastain and Garfield. There's much more to the story of Tammy Faye that is not told here, but with what is examined, Showalter does an impressive job of keeping things funny and light, even if some won't get the overarching joke. The Eyes Of Tammy Faye does a decent job enough showcasing parts of this energetic persona but feels like it exists solely for an award nomination for the actors involved. Worth A Look.