Movie Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
When you think of Tammy Faye Bakker, what comes to your mind? Clown makeup, of course. The financial scandal that brought her down with her husband Jim Bakker. The silly puppets and cheesy songs she performed in the name of Jesus. Tights so extreme that it was almost elevated to an art form. But as Tammy Faye’s eyes clearly shows, there was a lot more to this complicated woman than, well, there is nothing to see.
I haven’t seen the 2000 documentary this biopic is based on, so I admit I was pretty in the dark that she was a friend of the LGBTQ community, a position that angered executives. of the evangelical movement. I also had no idea that she had come out of poverty, that she had a cold and sometimes cruel mother, and that she was, if not quite a feminist, at least an adjacent feminist.
Director Michael Showalter is certainly having fun with the sticky side I referred to. Will there ever be a period as gloriously kitsch as the 1970s and early 1980s, when the Bakkers rose to prominence. At one point, I lost count of the amount of unnecessary fur coats, dazzled headbands, hairspray so abused I could practically smell it, and linebacker-sized epaulets on display. Without forgetting the interior decoration, all gilded, the explosion of pastel and chintz, the omnipresent chandeliers, the enormous portraits of vanity hanging on the walls. In a sense, this film is reminiscent of me Tonya, which also reveled in a certain glaring bad taste of the 80s. But this film was more explicitly mocking. Showalter has a genuine affection for his dazzled heroine. All the mockery here is sweet.
A lot will be written about Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye – and rightly so, she is excellent, capturing the relentless courage of the televangelist, his desire to be loved and seen, his genuine kindness and his religious fervor that comes with it. is ultimately transformed into a good old-fashioned American. fervor for glory. (I admit, I was worried that the prosthetic jaw that Chastain sported was nightmarish(but once things started I barely noticed it.) Chastain is also excellent when she sings, capturing that weird thing Tammy Faye did where she was speaking – singing a particular word – “Hallelujah” in ” Glory, Glory Hallelujah “, for example, to give it emphasis. (William Shatner could never.)
However, I want to spend some time talking about Andrew Garfield’s excellent Jim Bakker. We’ve seen the character of Tammy Faye before – indeed, it’s an extreme version of the brave / sad archetype I talked about in my review of Bowling– but Jim is a species unto himself. Undeniably charming at times, with a strangely singing and folkloric voice, he’s also prone to baby talk, self-glorification, and outbursts of extravagant self-pity. Bakker was a born con artist who clung to religion as a means to an end, preaching an appealing gospel of “God doesn’t want you to be poor” to his parishioners. Garfield nails all of Bakker’s weird idiosyncrasies.
Bakker was also apparently gay – or at least bisexual – a fact that tormented him and made him inclined to take it out on Tammy Faye. He’s never been violent, at least to our knowledge, but he ignored her and made fun of her and made her feel small, which is exactly what his stern and restrained mother (Cherry Jones) wanted her to feel. Jim’s abuse, combined with a growing sense that the walls were closing in on their empire, drove Tammy Faye to the pills.
Obviously, Showalter was drawn to this material because of the Trump parallels. The Bakkers have ambitious wealth. The poor keep giving them their money, with a vague promise that one day they will be so rich. There is also a mentality of us versus the world: “This is a witch hunt! “” They want to silence us!
Now about this feminist contiguity. There is a wonderful scene in the middle of the movie where Jim and Tammy Faye attend a barbecue at Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds). Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), the Godfather of Evangelicals, is there too, and Jim is stunned. (It’s Jim who craves the approval of these two men, while Tammy Faye realizes that her talent on television overshadows theirs.) All the women are seated at separate tables, but Tammy Faye wants to be at the table where this is happening, so to speak, and she creeps up beside Jim, handing him their baby. (Nervous conservative men on Twitter would call this Jim’s “beta male” moment.) Not only does Tammy Faye intervene in the conversation, but she’s chatting with Falwell about her stance against homosexuals. “We’re all just people,” she says. “Made of the same filth. And God didn’t do any junk.
Later, on the PTL (Praise The Lord) network, she does an interview with an AIDS patient, expressing her compassion for him and her outrage that people are so phobic about AIDS. She even seems to intuitively understand that you were born gay, which is not a choice, a position that was still quite radical in the 80s.
Tammy Faye’s eyes is far from perfect. He tries to cram too much into his two hour deadline, he never fully explains why Tammy Faye was wearing this ridiculous makeup (one can extrapolate that it was in response to her ascetic mother) or how she became such an empath. (Same). He lightly touches on the evangelical shift to right-wing politics, but says nothing new on that front. The parallels with Trump are interesting, but obvious. But the film is still very entertaining.
Lately, there has been a lot of debate among moviegoers about the validity of biopic as an art form. There is general consensus that the standard biopic form of “rags to riches” —parodied so effectively in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story– plays. I love unconventional biopics as much as I love the next girl from Thirty-two short films about Glenn Gould To I am not here To Ed Bois. But there is something to be said for the rugged pleasures of a movie that provides a canvas for stellar performances and gives us a better insight into the inner life of a famous person. Most of the things I thought I knew about Tammy Faye Bakker were wrong. And I really enjoyed getting to know him.