Biopics are not a new concept, yet they strive to tell the story of a significant individual’s contributions to the world through the film medium. Just simply telling their story is never enough.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” gives the highlights of the life of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) who helped build a television empire with her husband Jim (Andrew Garfield). By scamming millions of dollars out of their daily viewers, the Bakkers were able to live luxuriously until everything came crumbling down. Scandal after scandal, the Bakkers were removed from their pedestal as Jim served his 45-year prison sentence (This sentence was eventually reduced and saw Bakker walk out of prison and right back into prime-time television where he still resides today. Lesson learned!)
In a classic motif for the biopic genre, director Michael Showalter first examines the beginnings of both Tammy Faye and Jim meeting at a Bible college in Minneapolis as they struggle to find their purpose in life. Slowly but surely, they make the right connections which leads them to discovering an opportunity: Rather than travel the country in their car spreading the sermons of their ministry, why not broadcast their message to nearly every home in America through television?
By marketing through such a new technology, the Bakkers were able to capitalize on the moment and created an almost cult-like following through their PTL Satellite Network, becoming one of the largest networks in the United States. By exaggerating stories and striking fear in their audience, PTL was able to collect millions of dollars from their donors by persuading them that their donations were to help support the church. This money, however, was simply used to pad the pockets of the Bakkers.
The film for some reason decides not to take a firm stance on the story. Showalter simply allows the audience to watch the events unfold without ever providing any commentary. We never truly see life from Tammy Faye’s eyes as the title suggests. Instead, the script just merely goes through the motions of a conventional biopic to bring to life many of the highlights in the absurd life of Tammy Faye. It almost feels like the script was written using Wikipedia.
We never get a deep dive in Tammy Faye’s psyche or understand what motivates her. Chastain tries her hardest to go all out, but with such a weak script her character is only explored through the ridiculous amount of makeup and cosmetics. The audience never understands Tammy Faye, they only see her.
The 2000 documentary of the same name is the basis for this film and provides a more in-depth character study throughout all the ups and downs of her celebrity life. Narrated by RuPaul, the documentary prides itself in Tammy Faye’s campy-ness and allows the audience to understand her thoughts, emotions and actions throughout every major moment in her life.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was clearly made as an awards contender for Chastain to finally achieve Oscar gold, but a performance is only as good as the story behind it. While Chastain is electric in the role, she is given such a dull, unmotivated script that may have her fighting just to simply receive a nomination come awards season.