REVIEW: By the numbers biopic about Tammy Faye salvaged by cast

This biopic starts by showing Tammy Faye’s youth, and she just happened to share the hometown of yours truly.

Before her career as a television evangelist, this film shows Tammy (Jessica Chastain) growing up in the small northern Minnesota town International Falls (Go Broncos). From an early age, Tammy loves the energy and music of the church and it leads her to attending North Central Bible College in Minneapolis.

There, she meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). The two quickly fall in love and soon get married. Rather than continue the college route, the two decide to be preachers on the road. Their talent soon get them picked up on TV and from there, build their own media empire. Unfortunately, it’s all too good to be true for the Bakkers.

“Eyes of Tammy Faye” takes a rather standard biopic route featuring a rise and fall. The film tracks Tammy from college, to a rookie TV host, to a rich personality and then finally to the Bakkers’ legal issues.

While this format does give a good deal of insight into how the Bakkers rose to power, it causes the most intriguing part of their story to be limited. The bankruptcy, criminal charges, and just how many people the ministry took money from is the real meat of this tale, but it’s just not as focused on as it should’ve been.

It’s true those unfamiliar with the details get a thorough crash course in the Bakkers. Viewers can get a sense of how committed Tammy was to her faith, while also presented with how she sought fame and wealth as a way to impress her mother.

EyesTammyBlog
Courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

Early on, the film showcases how Tammy’s mother never gave her much credit for what she did, and it’s clear it was a motivating factor. The film also takes time to present how Tammy became an ally to the LGBT community during the height of the AIDs epidemic.

This could’ve all been showcased, though, while still keeping the spotlight on the time period with the legal issues, or a few of the most dramatic moments of Faye’s life. The latter format has worked quite well in films, such as 2015’s “Steve Jobs.”

The film also notably lacks much of a distinct style, with director Michael Showalter putting a fairly flat film to the screen. Writer Abe Sylvia, who mostly has experience with television, penned a script that’s serviceable, but only a few scenes really end up being memorable.

What elevates the film to an above average level are the performances, with both Chastain and Garfield doing exceptional work. Chastain is nearly unrecognizable as Tammy Faye, completely becoming the character. This is one of her best performances, up there with her Oscar-nominated performance from “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Thanks to the work by its cast and the interesting source material, “Eyes of Tammy Faye” succeeds at keeping an audience engaged. However, viewers get just a sliver of what should have been the central part of the picture. 3.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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