Film: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” starring Jessica Chastain
The liberalism of the 1960s, Kurt Anderson tells us, gave rise to the conservatism of the 1970s. This in turn ushered in the Evangelical movement along with such creatures as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—and lest we forget, Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker.
It would’ve been very simple for “The Eyes of Tammy Fae” to sink into camp and portray the heavily mascaraed Tammy Fae as the SNL caricature from the 1980s. Fortunately the filmmakers had the wonderful talented Jessica Chastain to work
with. She doesn’t do caricatures.
Nearly unrecognizable with her wigs and false eyelashes, JC gives a full-throated but nuanced performance as the little girl from Minnesota who from the start really truly believed what she preached—and what was preached to her. For starters, TF believed in the fluffy-haired preacher Jim Bakkker (Andrew Garfield) whom she met in Bible college, dropped out of school for, and with whom she began driving around the country, staging Christian puppet shows for kids. This led to a break on Robertson’s Christian Broadcast TV Network, which they later abandoned to create their own profitable Praise the Lord Network.
Success, however, led them to worship at the throne of Mammon instead of God. Christian theme parks were erected, lavish mansions were built on the donations of parishioners, and marital infidelity ensued. On both their parts.
Supporting actors are strong as well. These include Cherry Jones as TF’s disapproving mother, and Louis Cancelmi as Jim’s manager, whom, it’s strongly implied, he may have been messing around with. Director was Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick.”)
To those of us for whom the Evangelical world is as foreign as Mars, the film provides a look at the rise of the Christian right, the crazed commercialism that went along with it, and why even Reagan and subsequently mainstream Republicans bought into it. But perhaps the most striking discovery: while Tammy Faye may have been naive and materialistic, she wasn’t a grifter like her creepy husband. She really did believe Jesus loved everybody—including the poor and LGBTs—and worked on their behalf till her death in 2007.
Keep the faith, baby.