Assessment: Jessica Chastain Makes A Watch-popping ‘tammy Faye,’ But This Biopic Wobbles



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Near the beginning of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” in a sm all Pentecostal church in 1952 Minnesota, a younger Tammy Faye LaValley (Chandler Head) falls to the floor in a violent display of spiritual rapture, writhing and talking in tongues and soiling her dress. Her strict mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), who’s gambling “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the piano, is horrified through this spectacle, but the other congregants are thrilled. Tammy Faye appears delighted too, as a great deal via her own ingenuity as by way of the interventions of the Holy Spirit. We’re watching a born crowdpleaser, a person who intuitively grasps that the charismatic Christian way of life she become born into demands — and rewards — a bit showmanship.

12:08 p.m. Sept. 17, 2021An earlier version of this assessment misidentified Fenton Bailey, one of the directors of the 2000 documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

By the time we see her subsequent, Tammy Faye (now performed via a startlingly dedicated Jessica Chastain) is properly on her manner to becoming the puppet-waving, mascara-slathered queen of ’70s and ’80s American televangelism called Tammy Faye Bakker. Along along with her husband, Jim Bakker (a notable-slick Andrew Garfield), she can forge a multimillion-greenback Christian showbiz empire in order to come tumbling down with the revelation of Jim’s myriad sexual and monetary scandals. But for all of her husband’s fraudulence and her tacit complicity, she retains a middle of innocence and sincerity or so concludes this patchy however glibly watchable movie. For Tammy Faye, it suggests, appearing become a natural state of being and, in its way, an expression of affection: for God, herself and her target market, and for the cameras bridging the gaps between all 3.

That turned into pretty a whole lot the conclusion of Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s barbed but affectionate 2000 documentary, additionally titled “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” The identical titles have the unfortunate effect of compounding the new movie’s redundancy, although it runs almost an hour longer. Like Barbato and Bailey, the director Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) tries to treat Tammy Faye Bakker as a determine worth of both sympathy and satire, and certainly to make one mode indistinguishable from the opposite. He desires to reproduce Tammy Faye’s widely mocked aesthetics — from her signature fake eyelashes to the gaudy excesses of the Bakkers’ domestic and broadcasts (nicely approximated by way of manufacturing clothier Laura Fox and gown dressmaker Mitchell Travers) — and find in them a supply of appreciation as well as ridicule.

Unfortunately, he's often stymied with the aid of a pedestrian script with the aid of Abe Sylvia ( TV collection “Dead to Me” and “Nurse Jackie”) that lurches from one defining life second to the next and leans heavily on Chastain’s performance to establish a experience of emotional and mental continuity. It takes a while for that to appear, particularly because this Tammy Faye knows early on exactly who she is and what she’s intended for. Her stubborn experience of God-given purpose, even though easy enough to respect, proves initially proof against any developing experience of interior existence. Our first impression of her is all folksy comic mannerisms and snort-cueing prayers, added in a chirpy Betty Boop voice that Chastain step by step invests with an fringe of steel.

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

Tammy Faye’s pass-getter dedication informs her decision to marry Jim, whose joyous spirit and boundless ambition first of all seem of a bit along with her personal. Both of them run counter to the primly conservative ethos of the Bible university where they first meet: Tammy Faye’s make-up triggers a few reflexive slut-shaming even as Jim’s sermons on wealth, his insistence that cloth riches is probably a sign of God’s prefer, mark him as an early proponent of the prosperity gospel. These scenes — borne out through later glimpses of the Bakkers’ lavish, shag-carpeted digs — couldn’t help but make me flash back on the grave tsk-tsk-ing about prosperity theology I heard at the Baptist church I grew up in. That church, because it takes place, was placed not too a long way from the garish Costa Mesa headquarters of the Trinity Broadcasting Network — a station the Bakkers helped build inside the early ’70s earlier than being tossed apart by its founders, Paul and Jan Crouch.

That specific episode is absent from the movie, as are a number of the at the back of-the-scenes electricity struggles that might have made for a juicier, extra nuanced experience of the Bakkers’ zig-zagging journey to the pinnacle of their PTL (Praise the Lord) TV network. Still, the bits we see, interspersed with actual and mock TV photos of the era, are often desire. Among the Bakkers’ supporters grew to become competitors is Pat Robertson (a niche-on Gabriel Olds), whose long-walking “The seven-hundred Club” communicate show offers an early home for Jim’s preaching and Tammy Faye’s singing and puppeteering. And then there’s the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. (Vincent D’Onofrio, all gruff authoritarian risk), who recognizes a formidable foe in Tammy Faye after they in a well mannered way clash over what Falwell calls America’s “homosexual most cancers.”

The film mines smooth however effective goodwill from Tammy Faye’s defiant aid for the LGBTQ network (“America’s for them too”) and her notion that politics and religion shouldn’t mix — all of which makes her a controversially progressive parent through televangelist requirements and anticipates her future reclamation as a homosexual icon. Showalter nicely restages her memorable 1985 televised interview with the gay minister and AIDS activist Steve Pieters (Randy Havens), and Tammy Faye’s allyship is each transferring and revealing: The mascara-streaked tears jogging down her face can also seem like a positioned-on, however she offers herself over to her histrionics with such conviction that it turns into not possible to inform in which tear-jerking artifice ends and real empathy begins.

The blurring of those traces is the key to Chastain’s performance, which boasts its share of flashily apparent accouterments — she appears to exchange wigs and accrue layers of make-up with each other scene — but also cleverly subverts them. An actor piling at the prosthetics is not anything new, but the effect right here is markedly exclusive from maximum different showy, status-searching for biopic modifications. Because those external layers have been, for Tammy Faye Bakker, a important factor of her maximum genuine self, Chastain too turns them into a conduit for deeper intimacy with the man or woman. She isn’t lost beneath all that pancake; she’s weirdly observed. (She does a pleasant activity of belting out Tammy Faye’s signature tunes too.)

Jessica Chastain inside the movie “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

Jim, by using evaluation, is all grinning, shuffling duplicity, his eyes forever on the camera and his ears for all time pricked up for the sound of PTL donor phone calls. Sporting a hucksterish grin and hair nearly as massive as Chastain’s and drawing out the phrases “God l-o-o-o-o-o-o-v-e-s you!” a touch longer with each chorus, Garfield indicates how such a lot of would possibly have fallen for Jim’s amiable bluster, to the factor of funding a big Christian-themed water park, a Disneyland for the religious. But Garfield additionally betrays a glimmer of terror whose roots the movie handiest coyly pointers at as the Bakkers’ marriage begins to resolve: We trap a sidelong glimpse of the enchantment among Jim and a male PTL colleague (Louis Cancelmi), but from there, matters implode all too quick as years’ really worth of economic malfeasance tumbles out into the open.

There’s a whole lot, plenty extra to the tale, a number of which the documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”protected however which the fictionalized retelling glosses over. Sam Jaeger turns up in brief because the megachurch builder Roe Messner, however his and Tammy Faye’s later marriage (and next drama) goes exposed. So too is any deeper analysis of the legacy wrought by using the Jim Bakkers and Jerry Falwells of the world, the lasting damage they did via binding mainstream Christianity so carefully to the Republican proper. (Tammy Faye Bakker died of cancer in 2007, years before a submit-incarceration Jim Bakker could reinvent himself as a shill for Donald Trump.)

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