The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Praise be to Jessica Chastain

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is playing in selected theatres now


“Religious people today are courts and juries. When it comes down to it, Jesus died on the cross so that we could learn to love others like we love ourselves, not judge them or persecute them”. – Tammy Faye

Whether you are religious or have a personal faith in humanity, kindness and love, few could disagree with the sentiment behind the quote above from Tammy Faye. Religion has long been a court where no evidence is necessary to reach a judgment. Religious groups routinely alienate, divide and oppress those who do not fit their narrowly defined concepts of ancient scripture while at the same time elevating themselves to a place of power and control.

However, there are also those whose faith is embedded in human rights, the hand of friendship and a belief in making the world a better place. These individuals quietly follow their faith while never seeking to convert or control. They understand that faith and belief are a personal journey where your actions and words speak louder than the church you attend or the power it wields. But was the evangelical TV star Tammy Faye Bakker one of those who used their faith to make the world better? Or was Tammy Faye a crook and a swindler, only interested in money and fame? Immediately following the fraud and conspiracy case lodged against the PTL evangelical TV channel in 1989, the media would paint Tammy Faye as the latter before embracing her again years later as a misunderstood visionary.


READ MORE: BENEDICTION


But the truth of Tammy Faye’s life is far more complicated to unpick. After all, while Tammy believed in pushing the boundaries of religious inclusion, she also followed her husbands lead, enjoying the wealth that initially came with his dodgy financial deals. Here it’s clear that while Tammy’s faith was built on a concept of love and togetherness that transcended the usual rhetoric, she also enjoyed the fame and position PTL offered. So who was Tammy Faye? And does Michael Showalter’s movie adaptation of the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye provide any fresh insight?

As a teenager, I remember watching videos of American TV evangelists on shows like Clive James. Here in the UK, these alien TV networks were the subject of ridicule, as we wondered why and how American audiences could be taken in by money-making routines cloaked in religion. Religion was a tool to trick people out of thousands of dollars on these TV networks, with a mantra of ‘money will strengthen your faith.’ The concept was simple, you can join a church from the comfort of your couch, but to do so, you must pay into the system and, in turn, increase the wealth of the preachers who invade your living room. Here, politics and religion eventually combined to create a right-wing media platform that still dominates American life.


Jessica Chastain as “Tammy Faye Bakker” and Andrew Garfield as “Jim Bakker” in the film THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. Photo by Daniel McFadden. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

However, not all TV evangelists supported the ever-growing link between religion and right-wing politics. Tammy Faye was undoubtedly one of those visionaries. Her acceptance of humanity in all its colour and difference was a shining light in an otherwise financially driven world of politics, power, and wealth. But could the same be said of her husband, Jim Bakker? This marital difference sits at the heart of Showalter’s movie as we watch the slow erosion of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker’s house of cards. However, the resulting film is not without its problems. While Chastain and Garfield’s performances are brilliant, The Eyes of Tammy Faye also feels too safe and ‘nice’ in its deeper discussions on fame, religion, and politics.

Tammy Faye’s life unfolds through a traditional biopic structure that at times dilutes the complexity of her life and her beliefs. While at the same time, the lies Jim weaved in building the PTL empire feel underdeveloped. For example, his alleged homosexual relationships receive a light touch that never allows deeper exploration. At the same time, while his financial management and control are explored, allegations of rape are brushed over. However, Garfield excels in his portrayal of Jim as the slippery used car salesman of evangelical TV.


READ MORE: PAM AND TOMMY


But it is Jessica Chastain who steals the show with a performance of incredible depth. Chastain reflects Tammy Faye’s sharp intellect as she challenges the world around her. But she couples this with a deep vulnerability born from her childhood and a need to belong. However, despite the brilliance of Chastain and Garfield’s performances, the lack of depth left me with an incomplete feeling as the credits rolled. Here The Eyes of Tammy Faye would have benefited from a more journalistic and critical eye in its direction.

My original question centred on whether Showalter’s movie offered us any fresh insight into Tammy Faye’s life? Ultimately the answer to this is no. However, we are given a delightful and entertaining portrait of a woman who defied the religious right and challenged the court of public and religious opinion. And maybe that’s all we need? After all, this is a woman who defied right-wing religious ideology, supported inclusion and quietly fought for a female voice in a male-dominated world. But no matter how entertaining the resulting film is, I still can’t help but feel Showalter’s film lacks some complexity in fully exploring the world through The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

  • Our Star Rating
4

Summary

While Chastain and Garfield’s performances are brilliant, The Eyes of Tammy Faye also feels too safe and ‘nice’ in its deeper discussions on fame, religion, and politics.

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