Tammy Faye Bakker was a camp icon for causes which can be instantly clear when watching any footage of her at work. She was a straight, cis girl who carried out femininity with an depth extra usually present in drag. When she spoke, it was with a excessive chirrup that evoked Betty Boop, and when she sang, she gestured emphatically as if making an attempt to transmit her track by means of her complete physique as a substitute of simply her voice. She favored huge hair and heavy make-up that included the spider-leg eyelashes that had been her signature, although the lingering picture of mascara-blackened tears streaming down her face most likely owes extra to SCTV and SNL than to her personal appearances. Bakker — née LaValley, and later Messner — did cry rather a lot on digital camera, so she was adamant about sporting waterproof mascara. She helped her first husband, the televangelist Jim Bakker, construct an empire that ruthlessly melded religion with commerce. However she by some means retained an aura of blamelessness at the same time as every part collapsed in fraud indictments and allegations of sexual assault in 1987, as if her gaudy guilelessness shielded her from any taint of complicity.
Bakker might have been what Susan Sontag known as naïve camp, however The Eyes of Tammy Faye is unquestionably deliberate camp, which, as Sontag put it, is “usually less satisfying.” The movie, which was directed by Michael Showalter and tailored from a 2000 documentary of the identical identify, is perhaps extra satisfying if it truly had a way of why Tammy Faye Bakker is an effective topic. As a substitute, it treats her as a set of components that enable for an outsize efficiency — and it will get a hell of 1 from Jessica Chastain. She does numerous singing and crying, thickens her vowels right into a Minnesota accent, clothes in an more and more outrageous array of ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s outfits, and dabbles in puppetry. However she’s left relying solely on these exterior-facing bits of enterprise, as a result of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which was written by Abe Sylvia, is unable to resolve if it desires to grasp its topic or make enjoyable of her, and finally ends up by no means actually committing to both.
As a substitute, the film tries to present Bakker a half-hearted “You’re Wrong About” therapy, as if it weren’t simply reiterating what has lengthy been her major narrative — that she was ridiculous but additionally honest, not like the cynics she was surrounded by, who used faith for private acquire or political energy. She additionally defied fundamentalist church patriarchy by embracing glamour, speaking about intercourse, and supporting LGBT rights, famously interviewing activist and pastor Steve Pieters about his AIDS analysis on air. On the similar time, the movie skims over what Tammy Faye actually thought in regards to the prosperity gospel that Jim Bakker (a bleating Andrew Garfield) espoused from early on, about his certainty that God wished them to have good issues and the way that led to their mansion by the lake and goals of opening a theme park. Tammy Faye’s dour mom, performed by Cherry Jones, scolds her daughter for being so oblivious to the opportunism of what she and her husband are doing. (“Serving God don’t feel like it should be a money-making opportunity!”) However Tammy Faye herself merely and blithely goes alongside for the trip.
Effectively, more often than not. Essentially the most intriguing moments in The Eyes of Tammy Faye are those that counsel its title character is much extra canny than her wide-eyed act makes her seem — like when she Girl Macbeths Jim previous his intuition to genuflect on the ft of Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), or when she secures their firm credit score from a developer with a mix of faith-based fervor and flirtation. However the film doesn’t know tips on how to sq. the concept of Tammy Faye as savvy and self-aware with Tammy Faye as a ditzy harmless, and Chastain performs each with out bringing them collectively right into a coherent sense of character.
Bakker rose to fame throughout a time that was pivotal to our present sense of Evangelical Christianity as a cultural designation as a lot as, if no more than, a spiritual one. The Eyes of Tammy Faye definitely appears conscious of that, with D’Onofrio’s glowering Falwell speaking about his battles with the “liberal agenda” and the assist he was capable of throw behind Ronald Reagan. However these components get pushed to the background in favor of Tammy Faye’s capsule behavior and her rising isolation from Jim, whose aspect she nonetheless stays by by blame, scandal, confessions of infidelity, and a few suspiciously enthusiastic grappling together with his assistant, Richard Fletcher (Louis Cancelmi). There’s a convoluted doublethink essential to be a lady demanding energy and a level of liberty whereas engaged on behalf of a spiritual framework that doesn’t assist both. However whereas the movie is conscious of that, it’s not likely thinking about doing greater than shaking its head on the hypocrisy. The Eyes of Tammy Faye might have faux eyelashes in abundance, however it has no enamel.