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The Eyes of Tammy Faye is well and truly a camp classic in the making

By Kate Jeffrie, First Year, English Literature

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is not a film for the faint-hearted. It’s a big, bouncy biopic that follows a married couple of all-American evangelist Christians called Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) as they ascend into the lucrative world of televangelism, spectacularly fall from grace, and find their God in gold toilets and mink coats.

Andrew Garfield & Jessica Chastain//Courtesy of IMDB

It’s not a biopic in the traditional sense of the word; hardly the kind your dad might watch on a Sunday afternoon to learn a little about history or music. In fact, the film that sprung to mind as I watched it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), which covers mad scientists, aliens, and creating man, Frankenstein style. Tammy Faye is as camp as can be, the dialogue is delivered with soap opera levels of melodrama, and there are multiple musical numbers; one in which Chastain wears a Santa costume that’s as sultry as a televangelist’s can be.

Tammy Faye has had a pretty lukewarm reception since its release on February 4 - it’s been called tacky, amateurish, predictable, and campy by everyone who should know. Yet Rocky Horror (which has been preserved in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”) received similarly bad reviews upon its initial release. Nowadays, the latter is the bread and butter of movie buffs, and a mainstay in the queer canon of cinema. Tammy Faye could well have a similar bright future ahead of it.

Courtesy of IMDB

There was only one screening in Bristol of Tammy Faye, and so a friend and I had to trek over two hours (on three buses, and then over a farm stile) to find the nearest cinema showing it. You would think that this endeavour – one that took up most of our Sunday afternoon – may have dampened the experience, yet we both agreed it had been a romp of a film we could not have missed.

We both got the sense that in a few decades time, Tammy Faye would receive the same Rocky Horror treatment, and that midnight screenings would pop up wherein people would sing ‘We are Blest’ just as loudly as many do now with ‘Time Warp’ or ‘Sweet Transvestite’.

Courtesy of IMDB

Director Michael Showalter may not have set out to receive this kind of response, as Garfield and Chastain seem to play the real-life couple in a fairly straight way, but it’s impossible to see the film in any serious light. Garfield’s intensely off-putting prosthetics - which give him multiple chins and fake teeth - and Chastain’s drag queen makeup force both usually gorgeous actors into the uncanny valley.

While the film makes it clear that we should feel sorry for everyone involved in their televangelist scheme – especially Tammy herself – we feel as much pity for them as we would for the stock hero of a pantomime when the audience scream, “she’s behind you!”

Courtesy of IMDB

This film won’t win an Academy Award or a Golden Globe for Best Picture, but it will, I think, be the kind of movie that people in decades to come won’t be able to believe wasn’t a classic from the minute it hit the screen. I mean we aren’t too far off - Jessica Chastain received an Oscar nom for her campy performance just yesterday, a claim I’m sure many fans will stick by when the film obtains its cult status further down the line.

Featured Image: IMDB

Will you be looking into the ever elusive eyes of Tammy Fae?