Having finally seen Michael Showalter, Abe Sylvia and Jessica Chastain‘s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight, opening today), I can say with authority that Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s 21-year-old documentary with the same title is just as interesting and actually a little better in some respects. (The only problem is that the Amazon rental is in standard definition, aka 480p.)

The feature version isn’t half bad, but strategy-wise it’s primarily aimed at landing Chastain a Best Actress nomination, which will probably happen. She’s playing either one of the most self-deluding or notoriously insincere American frauds of all time, and Chastain really pours her heart out — she’s not satirizing this big-hearted, indisputably grotesque woman but she is playing it very broadly. Because Tammy Faye Bakker wasn’t exactly a woman of subtlety or great spiritual depth, and of course the silver eyeshade + false eyelashes makeup is half the performance.

The movie gives Chastain a big “pour it out, sing it loud” moment at the end, but there’s not a lot of “there” there.

The film is a straight biopic — completely rote, right down the middle, all the expected beats of a rise-and-fall saga, no surprises.

Start to finish televangelist Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, playing a variation of the same anxious bunny-puppy he’s always been) and wife Tammy Faye constantly speak to everyone (including each other) in the language of homilies and bromides about God wanting us to live an abundant life, and they’re so obviously hustlers and grifters from the get-go. What you see is what you get — these people are half serious believers and half Satan worshippers. They really think that God (a Great Being in the sky with a personality) wants them to live a flush life with all the perks…if they love Him enough and really wear their hearts on their sleeves and keep the spirit going.

As Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman wrote the other day, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is basically what used to be called a “TV movie” — moderately flat photography, not a lot of style…this happens, that happens, this happens and then the next thing happens. I didn’t hate it and I was half-engaged for the most part, but it definitely improves when the tragic downfall stuff kicks in during the final third.

Friendo: “There’s no denying that even for a biopic, it’s prose, not poetry. That’s why I’m not really drawn to seeing it again. It’s lumpy and chronological, etc. And yes, the documentary is great.

“But to me the actors — not just Chastain but Garfield also (darker than usual — he really makes Bakker a sociopath) — weren’t just having ‘fun in a broad way.’ I think their performances are actually quite psychological, and that the movie is too. That’s what’s interesting about it. It ushers us right inside the deluded, fraudulent, curious psychology of the Bakkers even more than the doc did. It may not be as good a film; but it does something a little different. That said, I don’t expect it to have much traction with audiences.”