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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Most of my lasting memories of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker come from the memorable comedy send ups of them via Jan Hooks on Saturday Night Live, the comedy routines of Sam Kinison and my astonishment at the gullibility of the American public as the Bakkers ridiculous empire imploded.

As Kinison once famously quoted Jesus in his comedy routine, flipping through an imaginary bible, “Where in the hell did I say to build a waterslide?....”

The new biography/drama (and from my perspective, hilarious dark comedy) THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE is a brilliantly acted, engrossing film. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) gives an award-worthy performance as the outgoing, passionate Tammy Faye, from her earliest, simplest of beginnings to her incredible rise, fall and search for her own, right life.

Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) matches Chastain, serving up a Jim Bakker born of ambition, loaded with zealous greed and internal conflict.

Jim and Tammy Faye’s revolutionary religious message perhaps could have only thrived in the 80s, with a traditional vow of poverty replaced by a thirst for wealth, fueled by brazen fundraising that seems to buy more furs than charity.

We see the couple from their days in Bible College, through their rise from puppet shows to fame and fortune. Jim is the media savvy guru who manages to grab 5 times as many viewers as competitor Jerry Falwell, played to perfection by Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket).

Cherry Jones dominates the film as Tammy Faye’s stepmother. Her scenes with Chastain are the backbone of the film and Jones (Signs, Defending Jacob) arc from beginning to end surprises in its emotional depth.

Chastain is excellent as Tammy Faye, battling her inner voice and empathetic heart that wants to speak out against the bigotry and constant hate spewing from Falwell. Chastain even sings all of Tammy Faye’s songs, recreating heartfelt ballads and bombastic hymns with incredible accuracy.

Director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and his team cleverly create many real-life moments to perfection, including Jim and Tammy’s disastrous interview with Ted Koppel on Nightline and Tammy Faye’s warm embrace of an AIDS patient long before it was acceptable in society.

Jim comes off like a greedy, selfish, misogynistic asshole, and knowing that just last year in 2020 he was peddling a magic elixir cure for Covid on TV, it’s safe to say he hasn’t changed a bit.

There’s much more to Tammy Faye than the heavy makeup and complete lack of social filter. There’s a caring and universal love of all people that was, in retrospect, more demonstrative of any religious teaching than any one hundred carnival-barker TV preachers put together.

Chastain’s performance is a fitting tribute to the goofy, outspoken woman that lost her way, found redemption through her actions and walked to her own impulsive, caring voice.

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE gets an inspiring B, waterslides be damned.

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