Movie Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain inhabits the character of Tammy Faye Bakker, providing us with an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall, and redemption of the televangelist.

The first act follows Tammy’s childhood fascination with religion to her courtship with Bible College student Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) to their meteoric rise in the PTL (Praise the Lord) network.

Naïve and impressionable, Tammy is dazzled by Jim’s outspoken and progressive views about Christianity. During a student preacher seminar, he proclaims: “God does not want us to be poor; he will gift the faithful with eternal wealth.”

After a quick marriage, they drop out of Bible College and become roving evangelists. A twist of fate brings them into contact with the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia. Established televangelist Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) hires them to host a children’s show with bible stories and puppets.

Charismatic and entertaining, Jim and Tammy pioneer the feel-good variety shows that hypnotize (and often guilt) fans into pledging their hard-earned money. As their fame and wealth increase, the couple experiences turbulence in their relationship.

Beneath the pleasant demeanor of Jim Bakker lurks a voracious greed. He prefaces those desires with “God told me he wants…” Jim also wants to act on his passions, which include his attraction to men.

When Jim talks about his “God-connection,” Tammy retorts, “Well, He told me I have to speak up.”

Tammy undergoes a transformation from a baby-voiced puppeteer to a bored housewife to a Christian feminist who demands a seat at the table. My favorite scene…At a party, Tammy (holding her infant daughter) sits at a table populated by several Christian superstars, among them Jerry Falwell (well played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Ignoring the blatant disapproval of the older men, Tammy shares her beliefs about acceptance and homosexuality. Later in her career, she invites an AIDS patient to share his story on the air.

When Jim falls from grace in 1989, Tammy is shocked by the allegations of fraud and the subsequent conviction. A bit of a stretch to believe she was still that naïve.

While she was inherently good and had the best of intentions, Tammy Faye Bakker craved the spotlight and enjoyed all the trappings of wealth. Throughout the film, her mother (Cherry Jones) asks pointed questions that are dismissed or ignored. I believe that Tammy may have suspected fraudulent and inappropriate behavior, but she chose not to delve too deeply into those turbulent waters.

A thought-provoking film that provides new insights into a decades-old scandal.

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