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The Eyes of Tammy Faye Worth Watching Just for Chastain

Star generates Oscar buzz with her turn as televangelist 'with a heart of gold'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 24, 2021 2:20 PM CDT

(Newser) – Jessica Chastain transforms into Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an intimate look at the late televangelist's life, based on the 2000 documentary of the same name. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film—also starring Andrew Garfield as Tammy Faye's preacher husband Jim Bakker—has a mediocre 66% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes but is nonetheless generating Oscar buzz for Chastain. Four takes:

  • "As a couple, the Bakkers are made of the stiffest cardboard." But "you won't be able to keep your eyes off Chastain," also a producer of the film, who "gives Tammy Faye the inner life the movie needs," writes Peter Travers at ABC News. "Her tour de force aims to redeem Tammy Faye's reputation as a cultural joke in clown makeup" and "is about to fire up the Oscar race for best actress."

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  • Going beneath the makeup and garish clothes, the star presents Tammy Faye "as a relentlessly earnest and childlike charmer with a heart of gold ... without being too cartoonish—in and of itself an impressive feat from one of our most naturalistic actors," writes Lindsey Bahr at the AP. But the film glosses over Tammy Faye's motivations in the fraud and corruption that marked the couple's fall from grace, "as though an audience couldn’t handle a narrative where she can be both good and greedy." Garfield, meanwhile, plays his part "with admirable restraint and just enough smarm."

  • "The Eyes of Tammy Faye may have fake eyelashes in abundance, but it has no teeth," writes Alison Willmore at Vulture. While an impressive Chastain "does a lot of singing and crying, thickens her vowels into a Minnesota accent, dresses in an increasingly outrageous array of '60s, '70s, and '80s outfits, and dabbles in puppetry," the film, adapted by screenwriter Abe Sylvia, "is unable to decide if it wants to understand its subject or make fun of her, and ends up never really committing to either."

  • The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern argues Chastain is "the only reason, though a good one" to see the film, which puts the televangelist couple "at the center of a carnival of sanctimony and cupidity populated by broad caricatures, as if the real-life models hadn’t caricatured themselves sufficiently." Chastain gives "a performance that's entirely original and amazing for its intensity. But "the film is perfunctory at best as social history … and adds little or nothing to our understanding of how pastors as flawed as the Bakkers can attract such enormous flocks."
(Read more movie review stories.)

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