TAt the end of her life, Christian broadcaster and record star Tammy Faye Bakker, wife of disgraced televangelist and con artist Jim Bakker, succeeded in a kind of camp redemption mischievously celebratory documentary published in 2000 entitled The Eyes of Tammy Faye narrated by RuPaul. She was praised for her courage in supporting the LGBT community and people living with AIDS in the 1980s and defying the homophobia of the Christian right in Ronald Reagan’s America. The film suggested a kind of martyrdom for Tammy Faye, who was dragged into her husband’s mess. The title was about her permanent eyeliner and liquid mascara, but with a cheeky hint that, like Laura Mars in the famous horror film, she saw things that affected her – sure – but for which she couldn’t be held responsible.
The documentary has now been turned into a feature film starring Jessica Chastain, who gives a hilarious twist as Tammy Faye: like Tammy Wynette with a bit of Nancy Reagan and Eva Perón. She is a believing young woman who falls in love with the charming but slick Jim, excellently played by Andrew Garfield, at Bible school. Creepy Jimmy has a free and easy way with other believers’ money, and he ruthlessly scours his TV flock for donations, which he uses to build a Christian entertainment empire and a lavish personal lifestyle. He fathers two children with Tammy Faye, but is reluctant to “snuggle” with her, preferring to let off steam by getting rough with his male assistant. The film also convincingly suggests that famed televangelist Rev Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) deliberately fanned the flames of the media scandal that brought down the Bakkers so he could step in and take over their media empire.
This highly entertaining biopic addresses the issue of Jim’s #MeToo scandal: he was accused of rape by an assistant and church funds were used to buy her out. Jim denied the claim; The film doesn’t use the R-word, implying it was all about infidelity, perhaps to prevent Tammy Faye’s LGBT ally status from being contaminated. Despite this problem, Chastain’s performance remains outrageously entertaining.