Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Movie Name:
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D'Onofrio, Cherry Jones, Mark Wystrach, Sam Jaeger, Louis Cancelmi, Gabriel Olds, Fredric Lehne, Chandler Head, Dan Johnson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Multi talented actor/writer/producer and director Michael Showalter is back, following his breakthrough with the well received "The Big Sick", and his more recent and less successful "The Lovebirds". "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is based on the solid documentary of the same name from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who have directed other well known documentaries such as "Inside Deep Throat", "Party Monster" and "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures". The film narrates the life of Tammy Faye LaValley, as she grows up and has her connection with church and religion. In the 60s while studying at a Bible College, she meets Jim Bakker, whom she gets infatuated with, leading to an early marriage, even before she's 20 years old. As they move to South Carolina to begin their ministry, they also start a puppet show on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which steadily gets them more and more recognition. As their popularity starts soaring, some cracks in their marriage start showing. They eventually start their own program, the PLT Club, which again quickly soars in popularity, allowing them to create their own network, and start funding a series of initiatives, including theme parks, retreats, all with a Christian motif. Tammy in the meantime has two children, continues singing and releasing music, but feels abandoned by Jim, who is always involved in his own business (and other diverse) affairs. As some indiscretions, both from Tammy and Jim catch up with them, the empire they so diligently worked to build starts to cave in.
As I watched this film I was instantly reminded of Gus Van Sant's "Milk", which also had a celebrated documentary sibling, "The Times of Harvey Milk" from director Rob Epstein. I was also reminded how much I loved Gus Van Sant's take on Harvey Milk, since he didn't try to mimic the documentary, he built a narrative around that particular character, and infused the story with a variety of characters which brought both color and dimension to the challenges, loves and ultimate tragic death of that character. It is a film that empathizes with the central character, humanizing it, never falling trap of being condescending or making the character likable or saint-like. "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is somewhat of a different direction. For all the investment that is placed on rebuilding the world in which these characters live, the film never truly manages to remove this judgmental stance on the characters, almost poking fun at who they are. Somewhere during the process of adapting the documentary to a fictional narrative, something got lost, and what ends up being displayed aren't actual people with longing, challenges, pain or getting through the absurdities of life. The film plays more like an elaborate and glossy film of the week, one that lacks humanity and emotional truth about who Tammy and Jim were at that point in time, what they wanted out of their lives, their relationship and ultimately themselves. It's a bauble of a film, which seems to exist to validate Jessica Chastain's pursuit of more awards (she was far better in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" and even Aaron Sorkin's "Molly's Game"), the same going for Andrew Garfield (who was so good in Martin Scorsese's "Silence" and David Fincher's "The Social Network"). Cherry Jones and Vincent D'Onofrio manage to bring some grit and dimension to the film, but ultimately this a feature that feels superficial, and more shockingly so, unnecessary.