NUNN'S THEATER HABIT
The Eyes have it
Tue. September 14, 2021 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is the story of televangelists Jim Bakker played by Andrew Garfield and his wife Tammy Faye Bakker by Jessica Chastain. They may not always hit the mark as far as looking like the subjects, but the voice inflections certainly do. Did they ever say their last name correctly in real life? Maybe not, but when Chastain adds at least three syllables to "Jim," it is exactly accurate. The energy of the two main characters was completely captured with the strong performances. The sets, costumes and of course makeup were perfectly recreated right down to lush shag carpeting during that time.
From the second the '70s style font rolled onto the screen until the ending credits where updates were projected about the characters, I was mesmerized. I can see why a younger generation might not understand who Tammy was or possibly grow bored in the slower moments, but this film speaks to children of my generation with religious upbringings.
The team that brought us RuPaul's Drag Race, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, have made several documentaries over the years and The Eyes of Tammy Faye was released in 2000 and narrated by RuPaul Charles. This adaptation goes deeper into the background of Faye thanks to a steel wool performance by out actress Cherry Jones as her mother, Rachel LaValley. Her fire and brimstone attitude towards religion haunted me, thanks to my very own relatives and upbringing.
As a child, I didn't know that The PTL Club was an acronym for Praise the Lord and somehow I missed hearing about Bakker's gay exploits, but Tammy was always kind, funny to watch and I just loved puppets. She is what we need more of in the world today and who doesn't miss Fred Rogers? Her support of the gay community and those suffering from HIV was radical at the time. She interviewed drug dealers and learned about penile implants in front of millions of viewers. Where were the other wives of religious leaders during this time? At home being manipulated by a misused bible and misogynistic husbands who had them remain quiet. Tammy was an outspoken, bigger-than-life personality with a singing voice that definitely stood out from the pack.
Vincent D'Onofrio portrays conservative Jerry Falwell Sr. whose influence and repercussions can still be found in the Baptist church to this day. Falwell mixed religion with politics, used homophobia to further his cause and warped numerous situations to benefit himself.
When he takes over the PTL in the film, it showed his true colors, but it was too late for the scandal-ridden Bakker to fix. Falwell went on to make the nickname "Ellen DeGenerate," claimed the purple Teletubby was gay and said both the AIDS epidemic and the 9/11 attacks were "God's punishment." It's scary to think what he would say about COVID today and thank God we don't ever have to know.
Director Michael Showalter knew what he was doing in terms of casting and the arc of the overall story. This much talent covered the shortcomings of The Eyes of Tammy Faye and elevated the overall the material to bring heart to the project.
There's a scene where Faye approaches a group of kids who are making fun of her and she handles the situation with grace. Whether that actually happened in real life is debatable, but the cruelty directed towards her by the public was massive at times. I Ran Into Tammy Faye at the Mall t-shirts with a makeup smear sold like hotcakes for a time. The undeniable Tammy kept a smile painted on her face and her head held high. Her positive and sunny attitude was a breathe of fresh air when the going got rough.
The last quarter of the film feels a bit rushed with no mention of her books, VH1's The Surreal Life or the talk show The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show, but that was a lot of holy ground to cover in two hours and six minutes. She married the contractor Roe Messner after her divorce from Bakker in 1992, which could have been an interesting addition to the storyline. Baker is currently 81and it will be interesting to see what he thinks of the depiction of his life. After passing away from cancer in 2007, we can hope that Tammy would have appreciated this biopic. Chastain works hard in a dream role that many would never have imagined her playing. While she may not win an Academy Award, as we don't know the competition yet, she will at least be nominated. Oscar loves a true story about a dead celebrity and award season is coming up fast!
Open your own eyes and witness this powerhouse performance on Sept. 17 at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark Street. Tickets can be purchased at LandmarkTheatres.com.