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THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE by Victoria Alexander

Chastain gives an astonishing performance. It's impossible to see the actress in the role. Chastain delivers a real understanding of clueless Tammy Faye.

I haven’t done any research on the life Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain), Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) or the past and current state of TV evangelism. How authentic is this film?

The film is based on Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s 2000 documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” starring Tammy Faye herself in all her outsized, bold defiance.

The film begins with Tammy Faye’s tough childhood. Tammy’s family was unwelcomed at church since her mother Rachel (Cherry Jones) had Tammy outside of marriage. Rachel, now married to Fred (Fredric Lehne) with three more children, is invited back to church to play the piano. But Tammy is still not allowed to attend church but desperately wants to praise the Lord. One day she defies the exclusion by going to the service and falls into trance and starts speaking in tongues.

The parishioners are overwhelmed by Tammy’s “glossolalia” and considers it a gift from the Lord. Tammy has found not only acceptance but her life’s path.

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” 1 Corinthians 14

Throughout the film, Tammy’s faith is central and sincere. Director Michael Showalter skillfully focuses on Tammy’s belief in the Lord and its primary place in her life. Tammy is never displayed as a greedy and corrupt person.

It was all Jim’s fault – the money grubbing, extravagance, the deceit and the last straw, the adultery.

Tammy did buy herself and her mother several fur coats. But she brought her makeup at swap meets.

Tammy meets rising star Jim at a Minneapolis bible college. His Christian ideology is centered on the belief that God wants his followers to be successful and money is not evil. It’s a good thing. Tammy is completely infatuated with Jim and their desire to preach. They go around the South preaching and living in motels.

Jim is the star and Tammy develops a cute puppet to entertain children, who hopefully will bring along their parents to the Bakkers traveling ministry. Tammy’s kitchen-made puppet becomes Susie Moppet with a Betty Boop childish voice. But Tammy wants more. She wants to sing. She wants to preach the word of the Lord.

Their traveling ministry ends when they run into Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) of the Christian Broadcasting Network, who hires the Bakkers to do a children’s show. Jim’s popularity rises and he becomes a host of The 700 Club. Now is the only time Tammy stands up to Jim. She wants in.

Jim wants the lavish lifestyle of Robertson and willingly follows Rev. Jerry Falwell’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) strategy by starting the PTL Satellite Network, starring him and the preacher-singer, now known as Tammy Faye.

It’s Tammy’s mother who is the Greek chorus interrupting every exalted accomplishment with a dream killer’s attitude.

Tammy Faye slowly evolves her style until she is an easily recognized celebrity. As the years go by, the makeup and eyelashes become more elaborate. A caricature at the time, Tammy Faye was branding herself and would have had trademarks and a makeup line today. You cannot make an impression unless you announce yourself in a distinctive way.

Tammy Faye’s sex life takes a plunge and in her loneliness becomes infatuated with Gary S. Paxton (Mark Wystrack), a country-western singer and producer, who was hired to help her with her music. Their closeness threatens Jim and he sends Paxton away to his unhappy, suspicious wife. Jim’s one night fling with church secretary Jessica Hahn becomes public.

With Jim’s empire-building amassing multiple houses, luxury cars, breaking ground on a theme park and hotel on thousands of acres of land, he felt invincible. The huge financial maneuvering of Jim and then the sex scandal brought the attention of the Federal government. The charges against Jim were mail and wire fraud and conspiring to defraud the public.

Tammy Faye seemed unconcerned where all the money was coming from. Maybe her avoidance of criminal charges was her cooperation or her dumb public face that shielded her from prosecution. Maybe her dependence on prescription drugs was a factor.

The result of the scandals were prison for Jim and the sale of everything the Bakkers had. But through it all, Tammy Faye had her faith in the Lord.

As I said, Chastain is a sensation. Garfield is as close to Jim and his mania for wealth and celebrity. They have a fantastic scene of raging at each other as only a married couples can do.

Tammy Faye was a caricature of her own making and Chastain does not mock her but inhabits her persona and voice with the skill of a magician.

For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes


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