The Eyes of Tammy Faye

I was too young to know Jim and Tammy Bakker in their heyday. They were a perky husband and wife youth pastor team who used songs and puppets to reach out to Christian children in the hopes that their parents would soon follow. They espoused some new Christian values, mainly that you need not be poor to be pious. And the best and fastest way to get Christians to part with their cash was to beam into millions of homes at once: television!

At one point, they were popular, beloved, and rich, rich, rich, using “church” donations to fund a family compound, a Jesus in Jerusalem water and theme park, and furs for everyone. Everyone! And then the scandal hit: Jim Bakker wasn’t just skimming profits, he was shoveling them right into his own pockets. Plus, he’d been having a string of homosexual affairs – and one woman with whom things did not go well, and he paid off to keep it to herself that he couldn’t get off. Or up. By the time I knew about the Bakkers, the pastoring was behind them. Jim was in jail. Tammy Faye was a punchline. You may remember her as the woman who wore an entire tube of mascara every single day.

This movie is Tammy Faye’s biopic, the chance to finally get to know the woman behind the man, trying very hard to get in front of him.

I’ve enjoyed director Michael Showalter’s work (The Lovebirds, The Big Sick, Hello My Name Is Doris) in the past so I was excited to check this one out at TIFF.

Jessica Chastain plays Tammy Faye and let me assure you: enough said. She is phenomenal. She sings, she sobs, she stands up to the sexist pigs running the ministry. She’s a total firecracker, and incredibly infectious. Jim Bakker is played by Andrew Garfield, who isn’t bad, but inevitably pales in comparison. The film is a straight biopic, starting with Tammy’s childhood obsession with religion and hitting all the major hallmarks of her life. The film paints Tammy as a pure and nearly innocent soul, just a nice girl who loves God, and all His people, and Diet Coke, in that order.

I was completely entertained by this movie, but I did find Tammy’s depiction to be suspiciously and relentlessly positive. Even more of a problem was the film’s refusal to really dig into the story – into Tammy’s true role and culpability in defrauding her ‘people’ and into what this whole fiasco means to the church generally and televangelism especially. It feels like Showalter is so dedicated to reshaping her legacy that he isn’t willing to be critical of the actual facts. Still, Showalter’s brilliant casting saves him. Chastain is so charming and charismatic that it’s easy to overlook any superficiality. I’d watching this again, 10/10.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an official TIFF selection.

13 thoughts on “The Eyes of Tammy Faye

  1. Carol

    Hoping to see this one soon. Tammy Faye was a force. She provided lots of fodder for SNL skits over the years. But in the end, she seemed to be a bit more complex than the grinning simpleton that appeared in front of the cameras.

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  2. Birgit

    Oh I remember this all too well and the jokes with her freakish eyes she thought, looked good. There is no way she was miss innocent at all. She loved the furs, the gold..lost of tacky gold, the big hair and clothes. She knew all too well what was going on but she made herself looked liked a shocked school girl, ended up marrying someone else and then dying of cancer. I will watch this when I canas I really like Chastain but it sounds like the typical Hollywood bio.

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    1. rdfranciswriter

      . . . Then Paul and Jan Crouch took up the mantel . . . and in Jan’s case, well, she took up the whole darn make up case. Yikes! think the Crouch’s will be the last of the breed.

      If you see the other bible couples on the channel today (or other outlets), the women look more like “hot” cable news commentators that the typical “preacher’s wives” of yore.

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  3. leendadll

    Google for pics of TBN. It was right along the freeway and part of my daily commute. Soooo tacky!! And for a long time they had glaring LED signs projecting all manner of religious hypocrisy. Their facility was fairly near The Cystal Cathedral, known for it’s MASSIVE annual xmas production using live animals. I think their leader got in trouble too. Or he died and the family fought? I dunno.

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  4. rdfranciswriter

    I knew you’d guys be on top of this . . . and if there’s was any review I was going to err to for it, it was AWM. I figured it would be all surface and no substance and Tammy would be played as an innocent martyr in it all . . . but based on your review, I’m taking the plunge.

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  5. selizabryangmailcom

    So happy for Jessica’s chance to shine in this role, but sadly feel very little empathy (or interest) for either Tammy or her husband. So I’d pretty much probably watch The Book of Henry again before this one. 😦

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  6. Liz A.

    Oh, I remember this. I didn’t watch any of the televangelists (I didn’t have a religious upbringing), but I knew of them. We pretty much figured Tammy Faye was in on it.

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  7. allthingsthriller

    I can see this being entertaining but, yeah, she was a fraud. She may have been better, perhaps more sympathetic, than her ex-husband but she was just as instrumental in deceiving people (how you couldn’t see through the duplicity I don’t know) and making a mockery out of Christianity. She was very empathetic and encouraging to aids patients during a time when this kindness took genuine courage, but that doesn’t excuse her thievery.

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