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Theatrical THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (2021) (1 Viewer)

JoeStemme

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THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE - Give the movie-makers credit for chutzpah -- by beginning on a super tight close-up of Jessica Chastain's heavily made up face, they are practically daring viewers to accept the actress as Tammy Faye Bakker. For the most part, the makeup holds up even if one still notices the seams (this despite digital clean-up as well). Unintentionally, this move also highlights the artificial nature of the entire enterprise.

After a brief flashback to her childhood, we move forward to Tammy Faye's fateful meeting with Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at bible college (this involves a different makeup design trying to disguise the 40 something actress as a 20-ish student). The Jim Bakker we meet already has hustler written all over him as he cajoles Tammy Faye and all those around him*.The couple find inspiration and, with the help of hand puppets created by Tammy Faye, the pair hit the road to spread the word (and raise funds; the Bakkers make no secret that they reject the notion of a vow of poverty). Their early years in the 60s make them out to be a sort of traveling Mr. & Mrs. Rogers roadshow,, with their sunny postive disposition (of course, Mr. Rogers didn't beg for contributions).

Director Michael Showalter along with writer Abe Sylvia (based on the same titled Documentary) make the unfortunate decision to emphasize the Bakker's devout behavior with ironic overly good-natured dialogue while all the while planting ear to ear grins on them. Combined with the garish makeup and hair and Tammy Faye's Betty Boop voice it creates a phony atmosphere where nothing can be taken seriously, even when the team eventually meet their comeuppance in the late 80s. The Bakkers were larger than life figures already, their story didn't need to be camped up. To be coddled. Audience members were laughing even during the most serious tragic scenes.

What's truly disappointing here is that the Bakkers story is a fascinating one about the rise and fall of telegenic couple who unwittingly exposed the hypocrisy of many in the televangelist community. The fact that the couple also struggled against the Christian right's heavy move into politics and their demonetization of the LGBTQ community gives the movie it's best moment - a sympathetic interview that Tammy Faye had with a gay pastor, Steve Pieters (Randy Havens). Jerry Falwell (Vincent D'Onofrio) is definitely made the heavy here, but, it's a flat portrayal with little of Falwell's oiliness coming through. Chastain bravely tries to keep the movie on track even with all the glibness and having to emote under the grotesque makeup. Garfield also does what he can, even if the part is written as a caricature.

Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye's mother comes off best. She seems to intrinsically understand that the best way to play such a broad figure is to just play the role straight - let the situations and the story do the work. No need to wink at the viewer. Despite the performances and a fascinating back-story, THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE is let down by it's lite treatment. The Bakkers themselved become mere hand puppets in their own biography.

* The real Jim Bakker is still at it, most recently hitting the news for selling phony Covid cures
 

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