It’s screener season for us SAG-AFTRA members, which means we get access to award-nominated flicks from across the streaming-verse. Recently, I watched the Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield vehicle “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, a biopic about the televangelist couple who took the niche Christian broadcasting world by storm in the 80s and 90s. It’s also based on a documentary of the same name.
About the Bakkers
We begin by following Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker at Christian college, where they met and fell in love. They both are drawn to service of the Lord, though for different reasons. Tammy feels drawn to bring love and good will to others, while Jim feels like a used car salesman from the jump. They wed and begin a traveling ministry, eventually catching the eye of someone with contacts to famous televangelist Pat Robertson.
After creating the still-running Christian primetime show “The 700 Club”, Robertson takes credit for its creation and the Bakkers are forced to create their own network, Praise the Lord, which later garners over 20 million viewers. Their empire thrives as they build houses, rehab centers, and eventually a Christian theme park.
All the while, Jim does the preaching and Tammy Faye does the singing. They seem happy, though a gap is slowly widening in their marriage. It later comes to light that Jim hasn’t always been faithful in his marriage or his financials. Tammy seems caught in the crossfire, only wanting to sing and bring God’s love to all.
And this is my contention with this film. Both Chastain and Garfield are great; when are they not? They embody the characters incredibly well and have great chemistry. But they’re wearing prosthetics to appear more like the real people, so they have these large, unmoving jowls glued to their cheeks. They look ridiculous; either actor could have played these roles without and we would have understood who they were.
From the story, Tammy Faye seems like a very lovely and loving woman. She interviews an AIDS patient live on air, much to the chagrin of Rev. Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Jim, at a time when the Christian moral majority was still calling it “gay cancer”. But she was also complicite in the fraud PTL committed by taking donors’ money and using it for their own personal gains. So, she’s still not a hero. She went on to go good things before her death in 2007 and was a friend to the gay community, but she still stole money from people through her husband’s misdeeds.
Not everyone deserves a movie about them
How was Tammy Faye different from any other televangelist other than being more open minded? How is she any different from other non-famous religious leaders who do good in the world? Aside from having outrageous makeup and singing her heart out on TV, why is she special enough to need a movie? I finished the film wondering exactly this: why did this movie need to be made? Why did this story need to be told? It was already a documentary; shouldn’t that be enough? Did we tread any new ground here? Or was this, at its core, an Oscar grab?
I will say kudos to Michael Showalter for directing. It looked great and he got stellar performances, but why this story, Mike?
What did you think? Love it, hate it; what was your take-away from this film? Hit me up @lincolnlhayes on Twitter and let’s chat about it.