The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is the dramatised story of the rise and fall of TV preachers-cum-entertainers Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. Based on a documentary detailing the real-life scandal that unfolded in 1980s America, the movie focuses on Tammy Faye’s perspective as she goes from poverty and neglect to stardom. The story culminates with the very public downfall of the empire that she and her husband Jim built together. Actress Jessica Chastain delivers a wonderful performance as the protagonist, exhibiting some incredible voicework too. Thanks to the remarkable makeup, she also undergoes an impressive transformation as the film moves through various decades of Tammy’s life.
The narrative begins with Tammy Faye as a child. As the daughter of a divorcee, she is not allowed to attend church with her family for fear that her presence will remind people of her mother’s status. One day, a singular episode sees her speaking in tongues, and she embarks on a religious path. She meets and marries an ambitious young preacher, Jim Bakker, who is equally unconventional in his beliefs. The couple rise to fame with a television puppet show promoting Christianity, soon followed by the founding of their own network. They gain a huge following that brings them all the riches they dreamed of, but, eventually, their greed and superficiality catch up with them, leading to scandals that turn them into a national laughing stock.
Although the true story of the Bakkers is an easy target for ridicule, the film extracts something from it that invites reflection beyond the warning of trusting false prophets. Tammy Faye is shown as a child in need of love and attention, who never really grows out of that stage. Her over-the-top positivity and faith, just like her heavy makeup, are ways to cover up and overcome a deep-seated pain and a desperate need for approval. The most poignant element of the story is that at every stage of her life she makes a choice that seems like the next logical step, and yet after many years she ends up in a place where every element that belongs to her reality is problematic in some way.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye may not be a perfect biopic, but its themes are strong and thought-provoking, and the cast really does bring those complex dynamics to life. Although the Bakkers created a ludicrous world, the story touches on common needs, aspirations and attitudes. These are inevitably blown up and made grotesque in the film’s context, but they come across more powerfully because they are at root universal.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is released nationwide on 4th February 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Eyes of Tammy Faye here: