The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021, TSG Entertainment/Freckle Films/MWM Studios/Semi-Formal Productions)
Featuring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones and Vincent D’Onofrio. Screenplay by Abe Sylvia. Directed by Michael Showalter.
I am 9 years old, sitting alone in front of our TV at home watching The PTL Club. Jim and Tammy Bakker are in polyester and satin, smiling, white-toothed, encouraging members to buy timeshares in Heritage USA – their Christian themed amusement park. I am dazzled. Imagine meeting Jesus hanging out in the park mall! Imagine watching the nativity play every single day! I begged my liberal, secular parents for the money to buy 4 days a year in this paradise on Earth.
Sadly they did not share my vision or my fervour and I never had a chance to visit Heritage USA. Due to grave financial mismanagement by the Bakkers, neither did many of the timesharing PTL partners. Now, 40 years later I am once again alone – sitting in a Covid-emptied movie theatre, one of three people watching The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
The film is in essence the story of the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Bakker and their Christian empire. The movie captures my childhood memories of a 70 and 80s Kodachrome white shag carpet, brass-filled opulence. It is a world populated primarily by Tammy Faye who in the film is a lonely but loving, kind-hearted innocent who is lead astray by her greed-filled, power-hungry husband.
I get it. The movie is a love letter biopic to Tammy Faye by the lead actress and producer Jessica Chastain. On that level it is delightfully watchable. You could go with your mates, all wearing masks, and have a pretty good escape from your partner/children. I think what is not captured in the film is the real issue of a group of adults – very much aided and abetted by Tammy Faye Bakker – drinking way too much of their own Kool-Aid. I mean these people were so convincing that as a 9 year old I almost gave up my Christmas money to buy a time share in a condo in the middle of an empty field in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
This film is not remorseful – not really. Maybe what I wanted was an on-screen apology for the thousands of people swindled out of millions of dollars of their hard earned dollars, but that didn’t happen. This is a light candy watching, bubblegum vindication of a very flawed and complicit individual. My 9 year old self remains entertained but in the end disappointed. No Heritage USA…ever ever…for me.