Release Date(s)2021 (November 16, 2021)
Studio(s)TSG Entertainment (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker became notorious in the 1980s for misusing funds collected for their Praise the Lord ministries. Their innovative use of television, down-home approach, and telegenic appearance were the perfect combination for success, and they reached an audience of 20 million worshippers until things took an unforeseen turn. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, based on a 2000 documentary, chronicles their story.
Jim (Andrew Garfield) and Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) meet in bible college, marry, and achieve fame as leaders of the PTL TV network. Their success is phenomenal, the envy of established televangelists like Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), who would eventually benefit handsomely from the couple’s improprieties. The film tells the story from Tammy Faye’s point-of-view. She believes in both Jim and their mission to spread the word of the Lord. She sings beautifully and projects a sunshiny personality, becoming a dominant presence in their broadcasts as Jim preaches that God’s rewards are not limited to the afterlife, but here to enjoy right on earth—happiness, financial contentment, and material goods. This message resonates with his TV flock, conflicting with what the evangelical traditionalists preach.
Director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) attempts to provide a non-judgmental portrait of the couple, despite their complicity to use donations for personal reasons. Tammy Faye is portrayed as not exactly an innocent but as one who believes first and foremost in spreading the word of God’s love and leaves the behind-the-scenes financial matters to Jim, whom she trusts. To humanize Tammy Faye and show her warmheartedness, the film features a scene showing her embrace of people with AIDS in the 1980s, clearly in defiance of evangelical norms. Her husband’s homosexuality or bisexuality causes him to ignore and sometimes mock her, diminishing her self-image. His mistreatment plus the feeling that their empire is about to implode leads her to seek solace in pills. Whether this is a whitewashed version of the real Tammy Faye Bakker or not, it is sustained throughout, persuading the viewer to sympathize with her.
Jim Bakker recognizes the power of television and his own power to entice viewers to part with their money. Jim is starstruck when he meets Falwell and Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds), whose approval he craves. His on-air fund raising is more successful than he ever imagined and, for a time, he’s high on his own dominance in evangelical circles. His Achilles heel is pride, as he believes his success can never end. When circumstances alter and people he thought were friends turn on him, he realizes how vulnerable he is as the world he built crumbles around him.
Jessica Chastain does an excellent job channeling Tammy Faye, with the help of the make-up and hair departments. When we first see her, she’s young and fresh with hardly any make-up. As time goes by, the hair gets bigger, the make-up more extreme, until the final scenes when she’s aged and looks like an overly tanned caricature of herself. Chastain’s vocal manner is mostly upbeat and sunny. When there’s a serious private moment, the contrast is dramatic. The cheeriness is authentic. Tammy Faye loves what she’s doing, loves people, and loves connecting with others.
Garfield projects a boyish charm, excited and surprised at Bakker’s rising fortune. In a scene in which questions about his handling of the ministry are raised by Tammy Faye, he’s steely eyed and distant, resenting the questioning of his integrity. When he meets Falwell, Garfield is the starry eyed fan who reveres Falwell as his inspiration. When Garfield’s Bakker is on TV, his manner varies from euphoria as he preaches the word of God to deadly sober when he claims that he and Tammy Faye are being victimized and slandered by the press.
Cherry Jones plays Tammy Faye’s mother, Rachel, who is suspicious of Jim from the get-go, particularly his ambition to serve God with all the comforts his parishioners make possible. Jones portrays Rachel as a no-nonsense woman who can see through artifice. She is concerned for her daughter’s welfare, especially because of her impetuosity. Attempting to be a steadying influence in her life, Rachel nonetheless eventually succumbs to the largesse the ministry affords and her influence lessens as Tammy Faye’s troubles escalate. Jones represents the heart of the film. Her Rachel is a decent, inherently moral woman distressed when her daughter makes questionable decisions.
Though director Showalter doesn’t shy from the Bakkers’ improprieties, he doesn’t delve into the details. Bakker was investigated by the FCC about donations he said would go to fund overseas missions but were used to fund a Christian-themed water park. Over $1 million of ministry funds was used for the Bakkers’ personal expenses. There were illegal payoffs, allegations of rape, the selling of “exclusive partnerships” that exceeded capacity, lawsuits, and prison sentences. Plenty of sordid history. But Showalter prefers to keep the story focused on Tammy’s journey. As a biopic, the film follows a standard path, telling a rags-to-riches story while shedding light on the private life of a famous person.
Featuring 1080p resolution, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is presented on Blu-ray in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Clarity is uniformly excellent with details especially delineated in Tammy Faye’s costumes, extreme make-up, furnishings in the Bakker mansion, fabrics, and shimmering jewelry. The color palette brightens as the film progresses and Tammy Faye becomes a TV sensation. Bright blues, pinks, reds, and vibrant greens dominate her on-air wardrobe. The opening scene showing the older Tammy Faye reveals a dark complexion, tattooed lip liner, silver eye shadow, and exaggerated false lashes.
Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles include English SDH, French, and Spanish. Dialogue is crisp and sharp throughout, with the primary actors assuming regional accents to enhance their characterizations. Jessica Chastain’s Tammy Faye is perennially upbeat and cheerful for most of the film. Andrew Garfield’s Jim Bakker has frustrated blow-ups directed toward Tammy Faye when she confronts him about intimacy. The surround sound of the primary audio track is most noticeable in the musical numbers, which feature choir members singing rousing spirituals fronted by Tammy Faye. The score by Theodore Shapiro is used sparingly to enhance mood in dramatic scenes.
Bonus materials include 3 short featurettes under the heading A Look Inside The Eyes of Tammy Faye and a theatrical trailer. A Digital code is provided on a paper insert.
Window to the Soul (8:17) – The film’s main actors, director Michael Showalter, and producer Rachel Shane share their thoughts on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The Bakkers were a part of pop culture. The film attempts to explore Tammy Faye apart from tabloid images of her. “She’s a woman coming to terms with what God’s love means.” It was important for the filmmakers to provide a multi-dimensional view of the Bakkers, who were radical in the world of Christianity. Bakker preached that God wanted people to have wealth, joy, and happiness in this life, referring to scripture to make his case. Tammy Faye crossed boundaries, such as reaching out to an AIDS patient, showing an act of compassion when those with AIDS were shunned by society. Jim and Tammy Faye were entertainers, and Tammy Faye “was the embodiment of what she preached.”
Leap of Faith (8:57) – Andrew Garfield describes his process of preparing for the role of Jim Bakker. Vincent D’Onofrio worked on his performance of Jerry Falwell by overly articulating his lines with a Virginia accent. Cherry Jones brought warmth to the role of Tammy Faye’s mother, Rachel, whose beautiful heart comes across in her portrayal. Gary (Mark Wystrach), a wanderer/vagabond type who encountered Tammy at a low point in her life, exerted a great influence on her. The director didn’t want to make a heavy, dour film. The film balances the ludicrousness of the story with emotion. Director Michael Showalter allowed the actors to find their characters and, according to Jessica Chastain, inspired them.
The Calling (8:50) – The director and several cast members comment on Jessica Chastain’s performance. She speaks in a Minnesota accent. Tammy Faye is described as always being at an 11 in terms of her enthusiasm. She was constantly “on.” The make-up took many hours each day to transform Jessica Chastain into Tammy Faye. Different prosthetics were used for different periods in Tammy Faye’s life. Freshness and youth lead to darker tones. The costumes created the story with colors. In early years, Tammy’s costumes and make-up were fairly simple. Behind-the-scenes footage is shown of Chastain having make-up painstakingly applied.
Theatrical Trailer (2:22) – Brief excerpts from various scenes in the film are shown along with the phrases “Based on the True Story” and “There Will Be Revelations.” Jessica Chastain is shown in various make-ups representing different periods in Tammy Faye Bakker’s life. Excepts from the song These Eyes by the Guess Who are heard on the soundtrack.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye aims to alter Tammy Faye’s reputation as a cultural joke in garish make-up. The film doesn’t provide a full picture of the unethical activities and criminality of the Bakker couple, making it a glossy version of history. A female in the male-dominated Christian right, Tammy Faye was willing to battle partisan politics and the condemnation of alternative lifestyles while thriving on the approval of her followers.
- Dennis Seuling