If you’re under 40, you’ve probably never heard of Tammy Faye. However, you may have spent a weekday morning at home flipping through the TV channels and stumbled upon Club 700, a daily Christian TV show, and subsequently wondered how anyone could find it convincing. Club 700 and her host Pat Robertson are two of the lasting remnants of the ’70s and’ 80s televangelist boom that catapulted Tammy Faye Bakker and Jim Bakker to stardom with their powerful combination of preaching and singing. Even though their high-profile fall shattered their part of the televangelist empire, Tammy Faye’s eyes, a biographical drama directed by Michael Showalter, aims to humanize larger-than-life televangelist characters who often look more like caricatures than real people.
The real Tammy Faye (played by Jessica Chastain), met her future husband Andrew Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield) while a student at North Central Bible College in the 1960s. Soon after, the two decided to start a Christian ministry and travel the country to spread their message. First using puppet shows to attract children, they eventually started Club 700, which gathered millions of spectators. Their success came with incredible profit, which Jim Bakker then misused to silence women accusing him of sexual misconduct, turning their once untouchable empire into one associated with corruption and sex scandals. .
When I first saw the trailer for Tammy Faye’s eyes, which stars Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, I admit the main reason I wanted to watch the movie was to see Chastain in obvious prosthetics and striking makeup singing “Jesus Keeps Takin ‘Me Higher & Higher”. I had no idea who the Bakkers were other than being a quirky, over-looking Midwestern couple, as the trailer shows. After seeing the movie, however, I realize that their presence is so steeped in American culture that they may be more familiar to me than I thought. While the film is a fairly predictable and somewhat bloated biopic that focuses primarily on Faye, there’s a lot to chew on about codependency, insecurity, naivety, and, of course, the swindle so often present in televangelism. .
The highlight of this film is the acting, especially Chastain’s performance. Her sweet and honest take on Faye never sinks into caricature and complements and instead grounds the garish, inlaid makeup she was known for. I forgot the prosthetics which I initially found distracting at the start of the movie due to how completely She embodies that role, from her Minnesota maiden voice to her heartbreaking revelations later in the film. Chastain makes a meal of Faye’s charming (or boring) quirks and clearly gives her everything in the vocals numbers. Garfield is also impressive, channeling all of his charisma to initially convince us that he is an all-American minister who just wants to do God’s work and shine a light on his audience.
The chemistry of the protagonists works from the get-go, showing their innocent, at times awkward heart, and how serious they were in their mission to preach to as large an audience as possible. The film chronicles their rise to the top of the Praise The Lord Network (PTL) televangelist ladder and how, ultimately, the millions of dollars in donations they requested and received from their audiences led to legal and marital disputes. . The film also excels at exposing the blatant (but perhaps not so obvious at the time) behind-the-scenes politics of the early televangelist industry, presenting Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr. as competitors entirely concerned with the audience, the profit and the fight against what Falwell calls “the liberal, feminist and gay agenda”. The film also credits them with ousting the Bakkers as the original hosts of the 700 Club and engineering their eventual disgrace.
The center of the film, however, lies with Faye and the effort the film makes to engage with the vulnerable and lovable parts of Faye and to show the extent of her victimization by Bakker and the audience, who did not. not taken seriously and has largely found her annoying. There are many moments in the film where she is harassed, mocked and taken for granted by the people around her. Her makeup is the butt of her husband’s jokes, and her brief infidelity is exploited by Bakker to increase viewership and shame him. As Faye strives to establish an equal partnership, Bakker treats her as an entertainment accessory and talks down on her. In these moments, Chastain’s performance, full of vulnerability and emotional nuance, really shines.
Chastain manages to remain sympathetic to the audience, through all of the drama and intrigue that unfolds. Faye frequently attempts to extend compassion over her husband’s wishes to people discriminated against by the church, hosting segments on PTL with LGBTQA + Christians and interviewing Steven Pieters, an AIDS minister. Her accepting worldview forms a stark contrast to Bakker and Falwell’s corrupt and profit-driven approach to Christianity, making her a lovable person in the murky waters of televangelism. I was so impressed with Faye’s portrayal that, at the end of the movie, I delved into the interviews Faye did after her career declined. Unsurprisingly, she is every bit as bubbly and captivating as her portrayal in the film, joking about the tabloid tragedy of her life and proving that even in the bad times, Jesus has, in fact, continued to take her more and more. high.