Monday, November 29, 2021

On THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

 Yes, this is a biopic about disgraced TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The film was inspired by a documentary of the same name and actress Jessica Chastain is one of the producers. The movie opens with Chastain as the latter day Tammy Faye in tight close-up. She's wearing too much make-up. It gives her face a sad, cartoonish appearance. Few improvements can be made before her TV appearance -- because, for one, her lips are now permanently lined. Then we go back to the beginning to see how it all started for an Adam and Eve who grew their own Garden of Eden and then got kicked out of it. Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield are fascinating to watch as Jim and Tammy Faye. Chastain nails the Minnesota accent Tammy Faye never quite lost, the high-pitched voice and the cute little chuckle that morphed into a latter-day nervous laugh. Garfield is amazing as the once-boyish Jim who's open to Tammy Faye's manipulation. 

At the beginning of the movie, little girl Tammy plays with puppets and, at the dinner table with her large family, uses the word "harlot." Her emotionally distanced and non-smiling mother continues to not smile as she criticizes Tammy. Mother plays organ at church. Inside, the church is shown in beige, muted colors. Nothing bright and vibrant. The congregation is all white folks. People are gyrating as if spiritually in rapture and speaking in tongues. Tammy has peeked through windows to witness this. Then, one day, she enters the service, approaches the crucifix on the wall, throws up her hands and starts speaking in a non-sensical language. Is the girl acting? Well, never mind. The congregation buys it and believes she's a messenger from the Lord. 

As a young woman in Bible school, she's immediately attracted to the slim, conservatively dressed fellow student who preaches that God did not mean for us to be poor. He wants to preach abundance. She attaches herself to Jim Bakker and seems to woo him with the theory that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his penis.

They are both minor players on Christian television, a married couple, when they're invited to the palatial home of Pat Robertson, Christian broadcasting TV star. His house is huge. The pool is large. His wife is wearing a mink coat. The buffet tables have plates of hot dogs for the party guests. Ambitious Tammy Faye notices this right away, She makes it a point to be seen by Jerry Farwell who arrives to a rather majestic reception. He pompously talks about his mission to fight the liberal agenda, the feminist agenda and the homosexual agenda. Tammy counters by saying that homosexuals are "other human beings that I love."  She calls him "Jerry." He tells her to call him "Reverend Falwell."

Eventually Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker will become hugely popular Christian TV stars and live a fabulous lifestyle in a gigantic house. But they live beyond their means. She gets addicted to pills. He gets addicted to power. She can't fix her relationship with her stern, concerned mother. Jim and Tammy Faye will be betrayed by Jerry Falwell. Their marriage deteriorates.  All this drama in the name of the Lord. Here's a trailer.


I feel we needed to delve more into Tammy's early relationship with her mother and how it forged her personality. There's one telling scene where Tammy is at home in a big house while Jim is on TV that night. Tammy calls her mother and says she couldn't sleep. Mother snaps back with "You got me out of bed to tell me that you can't sleep." Tammy ends the phone conversation with "I love you," but there's no "I love you too" from her mother. They hang up. Mother, who was not asleep and is fully dressed, returns to her living room where' she's been watching Jim on TV.

Cherry Jones hits it out of the park as the mother. She's excellent. Also excellent is Vincent D'Onofrio as a pompous, backstabbing Jerry Falwell. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film has an abundant and clever use of real-life network news footage and interviews through the years of Jim and Tammy Faye scandals. From news coverage, you already know of lot of their story, but the performances by Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield really make this movie worth a look.


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