In Review

Film review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye 

A biopic about the ‘Barbie and Ken’ of televangelism

“Ours is not a country – and thank heavens for it – in which a company called Praise The Lord Television could ever grow into a mighty broadcasting network,” said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. Yet in the US, PTL was once the fourth-biggest TV network behind NBC, ABC and CBS. This “unexpectedly moving” biopic tells the story of the couple behind PTL, Tammy Faye Bakker (Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain) and her preacher husband Jim (Andrew Garfield). “An evangelical Barbie and Ken,” they started from the bottom with a puppet show, and gradually gained a cult TV following, convincing viewers that “the more they gave, the more God would love them”. But their “gaudy temple came crashing down” in 1987, when it emerged that Jim “had been misappropriating funds, even using some to pay off a church secretary who alleged he had raped her”. 

This is without a doubt “Chastain’s movie”, said Tom Shone in The Sunday Times. Her Tammy Faye is an “inflatable doll of grotesque, martyred femininity”. With a “chirpy, aw-shucks manner” and a tan “the colour of a basted turkey”, she’s a fake “through and through” – like one of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art pin-ups “blown up so large you can see the dots”. Chastain is on “fabulous” high-octane form here, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday, and well matched by Garfield; but it’s all a bit “one-note” with the “constant smiling and ‘God told me he wants...’”. And no amount of brilliant hair and make-up can make up for the shortcomings of the script. Tammy Faye is portrayed as a woman who was “seemingly blind” to the wrongdoings around her – and that’s a pity, because “the wrongdoings are what made the Bakkers interesting”.

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