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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 2, 2022



‘THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE’ is based on the true story of real life televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. It stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye and she really gives such a crackerjack performance in the title role, so we’re not surprised she is nominated as best actress in the coming Oscars. 

This is her third nomination as she was previously nominated as best supporting actress for “The Help” and for best actress in “Zero Dark Thirty”. Will she win this time? 

Although she has won in the Screen Actors Guild, she’s facing tough competition from another actress who’s playing another real life character, Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos” who won in the Golden Globes. 

And then there’s Kirsten Stewart, who’s also nominated for a true to life role, Princess Diana in “Spencer”.

The Bakkers (pronounced Baker) belong to that group of popular televangelists like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, etc. 

The movie starts with a short docu intro chronicling the rise and fall of the Bakkers as once very popular televangelists, then shows an extreme close up of Tammy Faye in 1994. 

A make up artist wants to redo her face but it turns out that her lips, eyeliners and eyebrows are permanently tattooed and cannot be retouched, specially her false eyelashes. 

She says the artist cannot change it because it’s her trademark and if it would be removed, then it would no longer be her. “This is really me,” she says with finality.

The movie then jumps back to 1952, with Tammy Faye a young girl in a small town in Minnesota. 

She joins the religious congregation of her mom, who’s against it, and as a teenager (Jessica Chastain), she moves to Minneapolis to study at a Bible college where she meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) who impresses her with his prayer sermons. 

They get married and leave college to preach in various places, with Jim delivering sermons and Tammy singing and staging puppet plays for kids. 

They attract the attention of Pat Robertson who has his own company, the Christian Broadcasting Network. He takes them to to their own show, “Jim and Tammy”, that became very popular. 

Jim also gets to host “The 700 Club”, which became such a hit that Robertson later took it back from him. 

They also meet Jerry Falwell, a very conservative pastor who hates homosexuals with passion when Tammy wants to be more considerate to them.

Tammy urges Jimmy to put up their own TV station so they can have a say with their own programs. In 1974, they left Pat and started their own Praise the Lord (PTL) network with their own show, “The PTL Club”. 

The show is a blockbuster, making Tammy a hit singer of evangelical songs. 

They get lots of money as donations from viewers and they start building their own empire in South Carolina called Heritage Village which would later even have its own theme park. 

They have two kids and PTL becomes the biggest religious network broadcasting 24/7 all over the USA. 

But their marriage gets strained as Jim becomes so busy and Tammy becomes much closer to her music producer, Gary (Mark Wystrach.) Jim then fires Gary and their bickerings become even more frequent. 

Tammy becomes addicted to pills like Ativan to allay her anxiety. Jim also gets involved in a sex scandal with a church secretary, Jessica Hahn, who claims he raped her. 

He was also into same sex relationships and was investigated for malversation of church funds. These scandals eventually lead to his imprisonment in 1989.

In 1992, we see Tammy visiting a grey-haired Jim in prison and thanking him for agreeing to their divorce. The film shows the aftermath of the scandal and follows Tammy as she makes an effort to revive her TV career, but no one wants her. 

The film ends with her being asked to sing as a guest at a Christian concert at the university owned by Oral Roberts. The finale shows her singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (The truth is marching on…) that impresses the audience.

In the epilogue, we’re told Jimmy Falwell failed to save the PTL Network. Jim was freed from jail in 2007 and is still alive, forever trying to salvage his career as a preacher. 

Tammy became a gay icon because of her deep sympathy with the LGBT community. She remarried to Roe Messner, the property developer who built their theme park. She later contracted colon cancer and died in 2007.

The acting of the two leads is definitely first rate. 

Garfield is on a career high with three movies he did last year: “Tick, Tick Boom” (for which he got an Oscar best actor nomination that he’d lose to academy voters’ favorite Will Smith), the blockbuster “Spider-Man No Way Home”, and this, his portrayal of a real life character. 

He’s good in all of them. He’s very convincing as the geeky Bible student who becomes a manipulative preacher who believes that Christians should enjoy financial prosperity on earth and not wait for their reward in eternal life. 

But the film clearly belongs to Jessica who disappears in her role as the very showbiz, heavily made up Tammy Faye with her little girl Betty Boop voice. 

From “The Help” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to this, it’s a confirmation of her awesome range as an actress. 

The film is somewhat noncommittal in its stand about Tammy. It has a broadly comic tone. You can feel that it somehow wants to humanize Tammy, but it also wants you to laugh at her eccentricities.

Jessica manages to project Tammy as a compassionate character who firmly believes that she is a good person who has empathy for people from all walks of life, including gays and AIDS patients. 

If she’d win come Oscar night, we certainly won’t complain.

The film is directed by Michael Showalter who strikes a careful balance between drama and campy satire. 

He manages to make it a clear indictment of greedy evangelists who exploit their gullible followers, including politicians who also exploit them. 

And we’re sure you’d agree with us that we have our own local share of such nefarious characters, one of whom is even wanted now by the FBI. 

It shows us a world of excess and power and how some unscrupulous people can exploit God for their own selfish purposes.