Movie Review – The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
World of Wonder produced the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000). It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. World of Wonder is best known for its films and television shows that contribute to LGBTQ representation. The subject of its 2000 film was an evangelist that came from people who saw homosexuality as a sin, yet she was accepting of LGBT views and reached out to HIV and AIDS patients. This film is essentially an adaptation of that documentary, written by Abe Sylvia who worked on a TV series called Filthy Rich (2020), which is a series that centered on a woman who seemed very much inspired by the titular character here. It was about a TV evangelist who became mired in scandal, a scandal that was brought upon her due to the misdeeds of her husband.
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty and The Help) stars as Tammy Faye, the daughter to a preacher and a very religious woman. Tammy Faye became very religious herself and wanted to spread the gospel. Yet, she wanted to do so through the entertainment industry. Initially, she wanted to do so through children’s entertainment. She designed and made her own puppets, and she wanted to put on puppet shows for children where she would teach them about the Bible.
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge and The Social Network) co-stars as Jim Bakker, a student at a Bible college who meets Tammy Faye in 1960 and quickly marries her within in a year. He very much wants to be a minister and have his own church. Jim is particularly a fan of Pat Robertson whom Jim watches obsessively on the Christian Broadcasting Network or CBN, which Robertson founded. Jim envies Robertson and wants to emulate Robertson’s career, possibly being even bigger than Robertson.
The majority of the film is about Jim’s ambition and drive to build a television empire, which he does. Tammy Faye is right by his side, as she’s just a natural, bubbly personality who’s bright, cheerful attitude makes her an easy draw to an audience. Jim has a bright, cheerful attitude too, as a minister. He’s not fire and brimstone. He’s more sweet and light as to be appealing to children. The same is for Tammy Faye. She’s in fact more so. Jim even compares Tammy Faye’s style and presence to the cartoon character Betty Boop. People even comment on the fact that she wears so much makeup with particularly ostentatious eyelashes.
Cherry Jones who is an Emmy winner and Tony winner plays Rachel LaValley, the mother to Tammy Faye. She’s a preacher or a former preacher. She immediately has reservations about Jim when Tammy Faye first introduces him. When they start building their empire and start living a wealthy and lavish lifestyle, Rachel has her suspicions. Rachel isn’t alone. News articles start to question the ethics or legality of what’s happening in the business of Jim and Tammy Faye. Rachel represents the push-back against all of the opulence that starts to surround them.
Jim wants to build a theme park and develop properties, which requires tons of money. However, he doesn’t seem as superficial as Tammy Faye. She makes a big deal over a coat for her mom, as well as other things that would make her seem more materialistic. She’s not really that person. She’s very amiable and charitable, and she wants to do good and help people. She even goes against someone like Jerry Falwell, played by Vincent D’Onofrio (Men in Black and Full Metal Jacket). Jerry Falwell is hugely homophobic, but Tammy Faye is accepting to gay people and loving towards HIV/AIDS patients. However, she’s not perfect.
Despite wanting to be happy and desired in her marriage, which she gets to a point where she’s not, probably due to her husband being secretly gay, she becomes more concerned with the spotlight. At first, it’s about her fighting sexism within Christian television. She’s practically a feminist because she insists on having a seat at the men’s table, literally in one scene. At the early years of televangelism, she wanted it to be fair and give women an equal standing. Eventually, it gets to a point where it’s just about her wanting to be in the spotlight. There is a disconnect though over Tammy Faye. She comes off as a ditzy blonde who seems a bit dumb, but she effectively isn’t dumb, especially in her feminist stances and push for equality. Yet, her dismissal or veritable ignorance of the allegations of fraud and financial corruption against her husband aren’t really reconciled.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 6 mins.