The Eyes of Tammy Faye – a review

My wife, two boys and I watched “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” this week which is out in theaters. It is about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker of the PTL Club. For those who may not know, PTL stood for Praise the Lord, and the club was a very popular Christian tele-evangelical show that raised a lot of money. Unfortunately, the money brought in could not keep up with the money going out.

The movie stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye and Andrew Garfield as Jim, along with an excellent supporting cast, including Cherry Jones as her mother and Vincent D’Onofrio as Reverend Jerry Falwell.The movie was directed by Michael Showalter and written by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Abe Sylvia. Chastain wanted to produce the movie after seeing a documentary that painted Tammy Faye in a different light.

The movie is excellent, but our main reason for wanting to see it is we live in Charlotte where the rise and fall took place in the 1980s. We remember the award winning newspaper articles in The Charlotte Observer and a radio DJ who had a recurring comedy segment called the “Pass the Loot” club. Tammy Faye was mercilessly teased for wearing an awful lot of make-up and crying on camera. As Chastain said in an interview, I watched many hours of footage and I never saw her cry so much that her make-up ran, which was a popular spoof.

Her husband was a narcissist who had to have things his way, even forcing his wife to apologize to him on air when she strayed (his straying at the same time would come up later). And, all the negative press about his fraud on his “partners” as he called his faithful, were, per Jim, reporters out to get him or who just did not like him (he was later found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and went to prison).

What we learned from the newspaper reports, national interviews and his trial, that the Bakkers had a lavish lifestyle built off the hard working donors who sent their money. As Jim famously told Ted Koppel in an interview, “the Lord wanted him to have nice things.” He arguably is the first prosperity preacher at least on air. Now, there is a whole flock of them. But, the key to his fall was his taking in more money based on promises of lifetime stays at a Christian resort that he could not possibly fulfill. So, the only answer was to sell more, in his mind, not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

There was a sex scandal with a young woman, who I won’t name, that was more scintillating than his fraud. Per the movie, we also learned Tammy Faye’s infidelity was a due to an inattentive husband who had wandering eyes for men and women. Forcing his wife to apologize to him on the air was unnerving given what we learned about Jim later. And, per earlier segments, the apology appeared to be a ploy to raise money.

Yet, a key takeaway is Tammy Faye actually had a more progressive view of treating everyone fairly, like Christians should, as she noted on air. A key example is she had an AIDs patient on her show whom she interviewed via satellite. She was outwardly moved by his plight and told her viewers that everyone is the same in God’s eyes. It was very touching. But, that seemed to be par for the course even though her willingness to help was frowned on by Falwell’s Moral Majority.

The part that seemed surprising in the movie is her lack of awareness of the fraud going on. She did ask questions and got poor answers, but she did not follow-up. She was too trusting of her husband when he had abused that trust. His narcissism was, in part, a defense mechanism.

To their credit, you have to applaud their rise through the ranks of tele-evangelists. More than a few of the old guard scoffed, but at their height of fame they had 20 million viewers. Yet, it truly was all smoke and mirrors. God may have wanted them to have nice things, but he sure did not mean for them to take donations from poor people to buy them.

The movie is worth the look. It can be silly at times, as Tammy Faye was an over-the-top personality. Yet, Chastain does an excellent job of showing some depth that needed more exploration. And, Garfield plays Jim Bakker quite convincingly.

21 thoughts on “The Eyes of Tammy Faye – a review

  1. If they ever want someone to play Trump it sounds as though Garfield is their man. He will already have played one of the the biggest Narcissists and know how best to plead for donations.
    Glad you enjoyed the film.

  2. Note to Readers: When so-called leaders exhibit poor stewardship of donations it is a disservice to the enterprise. When they commit malfeasance, their disservice extends further beyond the enterprise and indicts the entire industry.

  3. Sounds an interesting movie, Keith, and Jessica Chastain is always worth watching. The best spoof I’ve seen on them is the Hooters’ video for their song ‘Satellite.’ If you don’t know it, I recommend it!

  4. Note to Readers: I must confess to knowing someone who consulted with the PTL Club. Two funny stories as reported by this consultant. When this person was in a meeting room and at the board explaining something, senior folks came in the room and said to the staff, you are lucky to have Jim Bakker as your leader and you should thank God right now for him. Every staff member went down on their knees to pray with the person I know still standing at the board.

    The other story is if there was not enough guests to fill the seats during the telecast, staff were asked to fill in. So, this person would have to stop what he was doing to join the staff in the studio to help fill the seats.

  5. This reads as chillingly fascinating Keith. Jessica Chastain was very compelling in Zero Dark Thirty and for me anything which has Vincent D’Onofrio in, is a ‘Really Have To See That’.
    It is very sobering that day in ‘those days’ we looked across the Atlantic laughed and shook our heads thinking ‘Only In America’ (which was a highly inaccurate response). Little did we realise this was merely a warning of the shape of things to come.

    • Roger, I must confess I never watched that one, so I will need to remedy that. As for people emulating the worst of America, in short, fear sells. It always has. You take division, sow the seeds of separate pseudo news sources, add in social media where truth goes to die, and then finish it off with a populist president who is skilled at lying, cheating and selling. What could possibly go wrong? Keith

      • It is controversial.
        There have been concerns that the film suggests torture is a ‘good thing’ when necessary.
        That it focuses on the lone hero working against the system.
        That the Obama administration played little part in the process, whereas it was Obama who argued for the operation to go ahead.
        Like most films based on history there are always questions raised.
        Best to focus on the film as ‘based on events’ and Chastain’s performance. And bear in mind it is not an ‘action movie’.
        As regards to the US you have accurately and eloquently stated the case Keith. A sizeable portion of the population have invested so much in the Conspiracy/MAGA stew it seems those they select as figureheads are immune to the usual downfalls of Scandal, (where to start?) Stepping over the Mark (Joe McCarthy) and Malfeasance (Nixon- prime example)

      • Roger, many thanks. I read much of the better information was obtained without torture. Senator John McCain was adamantly against the use of torture. But, the best piece on torture’s ineffectiveness was written by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Talking with Strangers.” The experts he researched noted that people being tortured will say anything to get it stop telling you what you want to hear. Much of what they say is fabrication. They went on to tell Gladwell tortured people are under stress which is the worst time to garner the truth. I found this interesting. Keith

  6. It is always special to watch a movie that takes place in an area you know or grew up in. I actually was not a fan of A Quantum Solace but I watched it because it was filmed at places in our area. That was really awesome.

    • Erika, that is true. One of our favorite movies for many reasons is “The Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day Lewis and Madeline Stowe. It was filmed mainly at Chimney Rock and Lake Lure in North Carolina where we used to vacation a lot.

      The same holds true with “Dirty Dancing,” yet my wife will tell you it was due to Patrick Swayze starring in it. Keith

  7. PTL became a pop culture phenomenon in some ways. I remember Ocean City, MD shops selling shirts saying “I ran into Tammy Faye” with a grotesque face of smeared makeup on it. Part of the exaggerated response to them.

    • Half a Soul, I have not seen those. She did elicit a lot of caricatures and humor, some of it harsh. The movie adds a lot more depth to her. I was totally unaware of her standing up for the disenfranchised in an environment that was less welcoming. Keith

  8. Note to Readers: John Oliver in his show “Last Week Tonight,” has done some excellent reporting on the prosperity tele-evangelist community. Jim Bakker led the way to many more. He jabs at this concept of “seed money” where the group sends you check, but rather than cash it, wants you to return it with one of your checks for the same amount. Sadly, this is works as the one requesting your donation usually has multiple homes, planes and automobiles. The worst example was getting people to send money saved for an operation to the minister so they can pray for recovery of the loved one. People were forgoing surgeries.

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