There is a strange attraction to the spotlight. Like moths, some are drawn to it and become who they are as they dance within its light.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is a film that tells the story of how time in the spotlight drove a couple to the heights of fame and fortune, but also to destruction.
The story is primarily of Tammy Faye, who is a young teen in the beginning of the movie. She is the child of divorce, which makes her an outsider to the Assembly of God church in which her mother plays piano.
Tammy Faye wants to be saved, but she is told to stay away from the church.
One night, on her knees, she prays for salvation. At the next church gathering, Tammy goes into the building and walks up to the pastor. He asks if she is ready to be saved, she says she is, and then begins to speak in tongues before falling into the aisle.
The movie moves forward to Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) in Bible college where she meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). Both are odd fish in this world and theological pool.
Jim preaches that God wants to bless people monetarily, while Tammy Faye wants to sing and entertain.
When they draw rebukes from the professor of the preaching class, both proof text from the Bible why their view is right. Tammy Faye demonstrates her ability to take Jim’s quotes from the Bible and give them back, chapter and verse.
After giving in to pre-marital sex, the two marry and move in with Tammy’s mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), and her current husband.
At the beginning, Rachel is against the union. But Jim and Tammy Faye believe God will provide for them as they move around the countryside preaching and singing.
During this time, Tammy Faye creates a puppet she names Suzy Moppet and puppetry becomes a huge part of their ministry. It is the puppets that get them a meeting with Pat Robertson (Gabriel Owens).
Robertson puts the Bakkers on his Christian Broadcasting Network. They become a hit, and this moves them to develop the 700 Club. It is here where the movie’s villain arrives.
Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) comes to a gathering at Robertson’s home talking about the evil in the country, foremost is homosexuality.
Tammy Faye butts into the conversation that Falwell is having and declares, “Why can’t we just love them as they are? The Lord loves them, shouldn’t we?”
Falwell is nonplussed by her, making it clear that Jim needs to deal with Tammy Faye.
From here we see the creation of the couples’ “Praise the Lord” ministry and the resulting empire they built outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. And it is from here that the downfall comes.
Jim uses Tammy to get donations, even making her issue an on-air apology on the Praise the Lord Club broadcast for something that should have remained private in order to get callers.
Jim raises money but is poor at management. Add to this that he does some very unchristian things, and you begin to see the handwriting on the wall.
This movie is based on a documentary by the same name. I have not seen the documentary, but there are things that this new film misses in terms of history.
What I feel the producers – Jessica Chastain is one of them – wanted was to present a story of how one woman was treated by men with power.
Tammy Faye wanted to declare the love of God for all, but men stood before her and told her she was not to do that. Also, Tammy Faye’s advocating for LGBTQ rights is important to the story.
Jim is portrayed as yielding to the pressure of the powerful men he encounters. These men tell Jim to corral his wife. They tell her not to speak on the subjects she finds important, like gay rights. In short, they seek to put her in her place.
Tammy Faye is a woman who was hard to silence. Her mother tried when she was a child but failed. Leaders within the evangelical movement tried to silence her and failed. What we see is a woman who wanted to speak her truth.
Though not a great movie, Chastain provides a stellar portrayal of Tammy Faye.
The film is uneven in places, but when Chastain is on the screen, we see the fullness of Tammy Faye before us. Her performance alone makes “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” worth seeing.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and drug use.
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Abe Sylvia, based on the documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
Cast: Jessica Chastain: Tammy Faye Bakker ; Andrew Garfield: Jim Bakker; Vincent D’Onofrio: Jerry Falwell; Cherry Jones: Rachel Grover; Sam Jaeger: Roe Messner.
The movie’s website is here.