Thursday, September 16, 2021

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

Jessica Chastain     Andrew Garfield     Cherry Jones     Vincent D’Onofrio

 Fredric Lehne     Louis Cancelmi     Sam Jaeger 



             A little girl with a rejecting mother finds redemption for herself at a Second Adventist Church when she bursts in on a service (against her mother’s wishes) and the preacher accepts her testament of faith.  She is so overjoyed she begins speaking in tongues, whereupon the congregation is convinced she is from God.

            A young man driving his father’s car gets distracted and hits a young boy, seriously injuring him.  The teenager is so distraught he prays for the child, promising God that if the child lives, he will devote himself to preaching the Gospel.

            Tammy Faye (Chastain) and Jim Bakker (Garfield) meet, fall in love and elope before Tammy’s mother knows what is going on.  He aspires to become a television evangelist a la Pat Robertson, and Tammy Faye fits herself right in with a singing voice and creativity in appealing to anyone—adults or children—who listens.  They’re both talented, and building on childhood dreams, manage to develop a following among evangelical Christians.  Of course, this provokes the interest of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who aren’t quite ready for the competition.

            Those of us of a certain age remember the Bakkers and their making religion more entertaining with playful puppets and delivering messages like “God doesn’t want us to be poor” on their PTL (Praise the Lord) network.  They even recruit Gary Paxton, a Grammy winning songwriter who comes up with something like “Don’t Give Up; You’re on the brink of a miracle” for Tammy Faye to sing.  For her, God is a loving god with tolerance for everything he has made.  When Falwell is condemning homosexuality and claiming that AIDS is God’s punishment for it, her approach is that we should love all God’s creatures, because “God don’t make no junk.”

            This starts to be a fairy tale story, as the Bakkers’ messages—and confessions—strike a chord in the hearts of Christians and the donations coming in go over the top.  Jim’s plans and dreams grow in kind, as in elaborate water parks and vacation lands on the PTL property, along with Tammy Faye’s social programs (e.g., homes for unwed mothers and children with special needs).  Unfortunately, the Bakkers are susceptible to human enticements, and no one in their organization has learned money management, which ends up being a major problem.

            Certainly, the outstanding part of this production is Jessica Chastain’s performance as Tammy Faye.  She so encapsulates the character, the viewer ceases to see Chastain at all—only Tammy Faye.  Chastain captures Tammy’s chameleon personality flawlessly, and we get seduced just as all the characters are by her enticing charm.  There is a genuineness in Tammy Faye that Chastain has picked up on that makes her a sympathetic character rather than one usually disdained.  Andrew Garfield is likewise perfectly cast as one who, though mostly sincere, is na├»ve, easily influenced, and devoid of a sense of practicalities. 

            There are a couple of problems with an otherwise well produced movie.  One for me is that the two characters become wearing over time, with their inability to grow and change and their persistent denial of reality, even though I realize this is probably how people experienced them at the time.  But the filmmakers could have used more judicious editing and omitted some of the scenes--especially toward the end—when the movie seems to drag on and on.

            I did appreciate the honesty of both of these characters when they are confronted by each other; ultimately, they were truthful—at least with one another.  Whether or not that holds for the real people, I couldn’t say.

 

Tammy Faye shows how even those with good intentions and caring hearts can be seduced by fame and fortune to their detriment.  Nevertheless, the voyage in getting there may make it all seem worthwhile.  Didn’t the characters say in the end that they didn’t regret anything?  I was left with that impression.

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland



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