MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Eyes of Tammy Faye - In Theaters
Directed by Michael Showalter
Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield
There are many good reasons to revisit the television ministry of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (Garfield and Chastain). They built a media empire out of modest beginnings. Tammy was a good-hearted child evangelist who used puppets to share the gospel and Jim was a passionate preacher who wanted to evangelize the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Their ministry coincided with the infancy of cable television and they benefited from the interest of Christians to seek out faith-focused programming. After getting their first major break from Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds), who let them host The 700 Club, they created the PTL Network and enlarged their ministries to include the resort destination/theme park known as Heritage USA. Donors were regularly deceived and promised benefits that the organization was in no way able to meet. Jim Bakker eventually went to prison for his crimes (with other allegations of immorality too numerous to mention); after serving time, he returned to broadcast ministry.
His wife, Tammy Faye, was never accused of any crime. She had a loving and inclusive spirit that saw every person as a child of God and dared to speak out with love to the LGBTQ community during the early days of the AIDS pandemic. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is her story and sympathetic all the way (while also not avoiding her emotional involvement with a record producer). From the incredible makeup that she wore, the rather corny (and grotesque) puppets, and her simple and sincere prayer life, it’s all here and then some.
In fact, too much is here in this by-the-numbers biopic. Although Tammy’s relationship with her mother (Cherry Jones) is well-depicted, other family relationships are given short shrift. We get fleeting visits from Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) but not much more. We don’t learn much about the business of televangelism, fund raising methodology, or even what their TV show was like. And, like so many faith-centric entertainments aiming for a crossover audience, we don’t hear very much about Jesus Christ.
Tammy Faye Bakker died in 2007 from cancer. Before her death, she was the subject of two feature-length documentaries, including 2000’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (cited as the key source for this movie). Musicals and plays continue to be made about her life and legacy.
Jessica Chastain has claimed this film as a personal passion project and she elevates her performance in ways that honor Tammy Faye. (Andrew Garfield is fine as Jim Bakker, but the script frankly doesn’t give him much to work with.) But in striving so hard to get us to empathize with Tammy Faye, the movie avoids campiness, sensationalism, investigative journalism (including the many ways fraud was deployed), and evangelism. The film packs the kind of punch that Tammy Faye’s puppet pal Susie Moppet might think about throwing – before she decides that it isn’t nice to fight.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A good performance by Jessica Chastain may be enough to recommend this sprawling and unfocused look at televangelism in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Two pitchforks: Scenes of implied sexual activity; infidelity; deceit; addiction to prescription medication.
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Your name and UM affiliation must be supplied in order for your comments to be posted.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW
North Canton, OH 44720
Local: (330) 499-3972
Toll Free: (800) 831-3972
Fax: (330) 499-3279
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
© EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.