Tammy Faye’s eyes: A far cry from Elmer Gantry

Directed by Michael Showalter; written by Abe Sylvia

Tammy Faye’s eyes refers to Tammy Faye Bakker, who along with her husband, Jim Bakker, “rose from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcast network and theme park,” according to the film’s press releases. Her televangelical empire fell apart in the late 1980s. Jim Bakker went to prison in 1989 for “swindling the faithful” out of $158 million.

Michael Showalter’s film, from a screenplay by Abe Sylvia, attempts to both mock and humanize the Bakkers. The filmmakers, however, confuse “humanize”, acknowledging that people have different and sometimes quite contradictory sides, with “forgive” and “excuse”. Having wrongly set themselves the task of turning Tammy Faye Bakker into an icon of female empowerment and sexual tolerance, they make the even more serious mistake of treating the fundamentalist Christian huckster with kid gloves.

Tammy Faye’s eyes

Tammy Faye’s eyes briefly dramatizes the childhood of Tammy Faye, endured under difficult circumstances in International Falls, Minnesota. She is the daughter of a divorced and remarried mother (Cherry Jones), herself a Pentecostal preacher. Later, at Bible college in 1960, Tammy Faye (now Jessica Chastain) meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). Bakker, in our first glimpse of him, gleefully informs his listeners that his view of religion places much importance on the “here and now.” God, he asserts, “does not want us to be poor.” He scoffs at the notion that the poor are “blessed.”

Jim and Tammy Faye soon marry and hit the road as traveling preachers. They eventually catch the attention of preacher Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Bakker becomes CBN’s first anchor the 700 club. In 1971, they meet thuggish evangelist Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), busy “fighting the liberal agenda, the feminist agenda, the homosexual agenda.”

Tammy Faye is already expressing her displeasure at her husband’s personal conduct. “You can’t leave me at home, alone and isolated,” she says. But she regularly does just that.

Jim and Tammy Faye eventually launched their own Christian television operation in 1974, the PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network. Donor money starts pouring in. In 1978, they open Heritage USA, a “Christian-themed” water park, theme park, and residential complex in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It becomes the third largest park of its kind by attendance in the US.

Scandals break out. Financial Scandals: Jim Bakker siphons off millions for the couple’s lavish lifestyle and other expenses. The charlotte watcher executes a series of devastating revelations. Sex Scandals: Jim is accused of making “homosexual advances” while Tammy Faye begins dating a record producer (Mark Wystrach). Bakker takes to the airwaves to denounce attacks by the “secular press.” “Tammy and I,” he says, “are under the most vicious attack in the history of this ministry.”

In the mid-1980s, Tammy Faye takes a risk interviewing an AIDS patient in Los Angeles. He says to the air: “Jesus loves us just as we are.” Falwell is horrified.

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