The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye ★★★½

The Eyes of Tammy Faye might as well be taking place inside the mind of its title character. A dramatization of the 2000 documentary of the same name, the movie imagines what it was like for Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) to experience the fame and failure of the television ministry/fraud scheme she built alongside her husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s peppy, cheerful, and bright—I like how the onscreen fonts, denoting the year we’re in, are stylized to match the era—with a few brief nods to loneliness and sadness. For what appear to be both spiritual and psychological reasons, this Tammy Faye insists that the show must go on at all costs. Chastain, far afield from the steely spook she played in Zero Dark Thirty, delivers a crazed, committed, effusive, and empathetic performance. She presents Tammy Faye as a true believer—a squeaky motormouth intent on sharing God’s love, whether that be through puppets or inspirational records. If the movie, directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), presents Bakker as too much the innocent victim, that’s because Chastain gives it no other option. Her performance is a force to be reckoned with, dominating every scene, tiptoeing to the edge of camp. At times, it’s reminiscent of the way Joan Crawford would subsume the movies that dared to cast her, especially those featuring women at their wits’ ends. (I’m thinking of 1947’s Possessed in particular.) Chastain isn’t as good as Crawford here (the material just isn’t strong enough, at once too obvious and thinly developed), but she has a fierceness, aligned with the larger-than-life, real-life Tammy Faye, that you can’t help but admire. By its bombastic (and somewhat abrupt) final scene, you have to imagine that The Eyes of Tammy Faye accurately captures how Tammy Faye saw herself.