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Film / The Eyes of Tammy Faye

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Look past the makeup.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a 2021 biographical drama film, based on the 2000 documentary film of the same name, directed by Michael Showalter, and starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

The film covers the rise of Tammy Faye (Chastain) and Jim Bakker (Garfield) as superstar televangelists during the 1980s, and their complicated relationship with Tammy's mother Rachel (Jones), and sometimes mentor/adversary Jerry Falwell (D'Onofrio).

The film had its initial release at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12th, 2021, before having a US domestic release on September 17th. The role would earn Chastain an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress.

Tropes in this film include:

  • '60s Hair: Tammy as a young adult wears her hair in a curly bouffant that was in style, before turning to a perky flip.
  • '70s Hair: Tammy doesn't quite quit big hair in this decade, having frosted her hair and give it a permed lioness look.
  • The Alcoholic: Tammy becomes addicted to the medication she's prescribed after giving birth to her second child and almost dies from an overdose.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Jim's long-rumored homosexuality is alluded to in the film, most notably regarding his lack of physical intimacy with Tammy in the later years of their marriage, the close relationship he's shown to have with his aide Richard Fletcher, and by referencing the allegations of sexual misconduct from male accusers. (He's also portrayed by Andrew Garfield, who has a bit of a gay following.) The film itself doesn't take a firm stance on it, instead leaving it up to interpretation.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Jim and Tammy go from Happily Married college sweethearts to Dead Sparks mixed with this—they openly admit that they're sick of each other during their fight over his infidelity.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Tammy Faye's own mother warns her that she follows blindly; Tammy doesn't heed the advice.
  • Corrupt Church: PTL is heavily implied to be this throughout the film, with constant background conversations about the finances, and finally confirmed as such just after Jim admits to giving Jessica Hahn money to get her to keep her mouth shut about their affair.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Ultimately subverted. Steve Pieters, the gay minister with AIDS, is shown to be very accepting and prepared for what he believes is his impending death. This was a reasonable assumption at the time the interview takes place, but the epilogue showed that as of the film's release he is still alive and doing well.
  • False Friend: Jerry Falwell treats the Bakkers as friends and allies and promises to help PTL survive the Bakker scandal, only to throw them under the bus and let PTL fall into bankruptcy.
  • Fur and Loathing: In one scene, Tammy can be seen buying fur coats for her mother and daughter, while she herself is wearing one. Jim later makes a snide comment about her penchant for them.
  • Greedy Televangelist: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker hit it big with the Christian evangelism show The PTL Club. However, the show's finances come under fire especially because the Bakkers' lifestyle is extremely lavish. Jim is eventually accused of and arrested for fraud.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Not so much Tammy Faye as played by Jessica Chastain, who slowly becomes more unrecognizable via increasing prosthetics, but certainly Andrew Garfield is much more attractive than the real Jim Bakker, to say nothing of Gary Paxton Jr.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Some critics have taken issue with its treatment of Tammy Faye as a well-meaning naïf who turned a blind eye to her ministry's frauds; YMMV on the truth of that. Jim Bakker also comes off more sympathetic in the movie, presented as a man repentant after being humbled by prison, than he would in real life, where he has become an apocalyptic preacher promoting conspiracy theories.
  • Humiliation Conga: Following the revelation of Jim's adultery, we get a montage of the church's financial scandals being exposed and Tammy being mocked for her appearance, culminating in Jim being sent to prison for fraud.
  • Hypocrite: After the birth of their son, Jim declares that he suspects "something depraved is going on here", regarding Gary and Tammy's tryst. Pretty high and mighty for a guy who's likely been unfaithful himself, and with another man at that. But Tammy's the one who's forcibly separated from her lover and later has to publicly humiliate herself by confessing on television (though her remorseful attitude luckily makes people support rather than condemn her). He also blames her indiscretion as the reason for his, even though the very reason it happened was because of his neglect of her.
  • Manchild: Tammy talks with a sock puppet throughout the film, from when she's a little girl, through college, and middle age.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first few minutes of the movie are with Tammy as a little girl.
  • Product Placement: Tammy Faye drinks numerous cans of Diet Coke throughout the movie. Justified in that the soda was the real Tammy Faye's favorite drink.
  • Rags to Riches: Tammy goes from a poor upbringing to a life of incredible opulence. . .
  • Riches to Rags: To living in a modest apartment after she loses everything thanks to the PTL scandal.
  • Sexless Marriage: Heavily implied with Jim and Tammy as time goes on. At the very least, it's very infrequent—at one point, she reminds him "it's been two months", and as Tammy tells her mother, when it does happen, it's more out of obligation than love and lacks true intimacy—she almost weeps at the tenderness her friend Gary shows her when he makes advances to her.
  • Slut-Shaming: Tammy's Bible college professor makes a snide comment about her wearing makeup, as if this undoes her claims of being a virtuous woman. At this, a male student can be heard off screen snidely calling her "Jezebel".
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Tammy regarding her indiscretion with Gary, telling Jim "he paid attention to me in ways that you don't", referring to to the fact that their marriage lacks intimacy both in and out of the bedroom. When admitting to his own adultery, Jim himself declares that it happened because of his feeling inadequate after what she did.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: True to reality, Tammy Faye prefers garish eye makeup, but this film shows that she did not always. Chastain herself also wore facial prosthetics to better resemble her, in and out of her signature makeup.
  • "Well Done, Daughter!" Girl: Tammy is frustrated and haunted by her mother's lack of approval of her activities, as Rachel believes making money from faith is immoral and is disturbed by the headlines of Jim's embezzling. At one point, Tammy outright demands her mother say she's proud of her, but Rachel instead presses her on the headlines, which Tammy casually dismisses as fake. After her mother's death, her stepfather presents her with the fur coat that she bought for her, saying that she hid it so that the IRS couldn't take it, implying that for all her complaining, she actually was proud of her, deep down.