Almost unrecognizable in spidery mascara, prosthetic cheeks and garish wigs, Jessica Chastain is irresistible as camp icon Tammy Faye Bakker who – with her husband, preacher Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) – built a Christian empire, Including Heritage USA, a Jesus-themed amusement park.
Born in 1942 in International Falls, Minnesota, Tammy Faye was the eldest of eight children. She yearned to attend the local Pentecostal church but felt rejected because her disgraced mother (Cherry Jones) was divorced. Then at age 10, devout Tammy Faye fell to the floor and spoke in tongues.
When Tammy Faye met charismatic Jim, he proposed on their first date. Proclaiming that they were summoned by God to preach His word, they went on the road. When TV preacher Pat Robertson caught their puppet ‘act,’ they landed their own kiddie show on the Christian Broadcast Network.
In 1974, the husband-and-wife televangelists launched the competing PTL (Praise the Lord) network. They preached a folksy, prosperity gospel, equating making money with spiritual fulfillment, pioneering faith-based entertainment.
At its peak, the PTL network broadcast to 13.5 million homes, generating more than $120 million in annual revenue. The Bakkers built a five-level mansion, wore expensive clothes, drove matching Rolls-Royces and flew on a private jet.
What was unique was Tammy Faye’s compassionate involvement in controversial issues like homosexuality and AIDS, maintaining, “God loves everybody.” She shocked conservatives like Jerry Falwell Sr. (Vincent D’Onofrio) when she interviewed an AIDS-afflicted, gay activist (Randy Havens).
Eventually, Jim became embroiled in a sex scandal with church secretary Jessica Hahn and lost it all in 1987. Two years later, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison – later reduced after an appeal.
Adapted from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary (2000) about the rise and fall of these Bible-thumpers, it’s unevenly directed by Michael Showalter. But it was Jessica Chastain who propelled this project via her production company Freckle Films.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a sincerely sympathetic 7 – rent on Prime Video or Apple TV.