Jessica Chastain is one of the best actresses working today, consistently challenging herself with diverse projects.
In her latest film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain continues that trend with one of her most challenging roles to date – playing former televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. Chastain tackles the role with gusto, effectively bringing an empathetic human touch to a person who for most of her life was seen as a religious caricature.
Her stirring performance lifts a competently average film to a higher level.
“Eyes of Tammy Faye” tells the story of the rise and fall of Tammy Faye and husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), who rose from a modest little traveling ministry to create the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, which skyrocketed into a multi-million dollar television network staple that expanded to include a theme park.
Tammy Faye saw this as an opportunity to share the gospel with everyone. She was a woman who loved all people and believed kindness was the best approach.
As the empire grew, Jim became entangled in everything ranging from financial improprieties to an alleged affair with a young woman working for the network, Jessica Hahn (who is never specifically mentioned in the film).
As their world – and marriage – came crashing down, “Eyes of Tammy Faye” shows how its lead character maintained her positive outlook and rebuilt her shattered image up until her death in 2007.
The script for “Eyes of Tammy Faye” is based on the 2000 documentary of the same name – a fascinating film that showcases its subject’s rise and fall and was a springboard to her return to the spotlight after the PTL scandal in the early 1990s.
Like that documentary, this film presents Tammy Faye as an innocent victim of her husband’s greed, oblivious to everything that was going on behind the scenes.
Chastain, who also serves as a producer of the film, makes it easier to believe Tammy Faye would be unaware of what was going in with her impressive performance. She presents this complex woman as someone who on the surface was easy to make fun of, with her long eyelashes and heavy makeup, but really was a champion for love and compassion for all people.
The rest of the film is hit and miss.
Garfield, Vincent D’Onofrio (as Jerry Falwell), and Cherry Jones (as Tammy Faye’s skeptical mother) are all solid, but the material doesn’t really add anything that wasn’t covered in the documentary. If you know anything about this scandal, “Eyes of Tammy Faye” won’t provide any new insight.
What it does provide is a tour-de-force performance from Chastain. She’s a one-woman show who is worth the price of admission.
This is a performance that could have easily jumped the rails, but Chastain keeps it simple and focused – delivering work that will deserve consideration come awards season and making “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” a film that deserves to be seen.