Towards the end of her life, Christian broadcaster and recording star Tammy Faye Bakker, wife of disgraced televangelist and fraudster Jim Bakker, achieved a kind of camp redemption in an archly celebratory documentary released in 2000 called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, narrated by RuPaul. She was praised for her courage in supporting the LGBT community and people with Aids in the 80s, defying the homophobia of the Christian right in Ronald Reagan’s America. The film suggested a kind of martyrdom for Tammy Faye, drawn 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 movie, she saw things that involved 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 turn as Tammy Faye: like Tammy Wynette with a bit of Nancy Reagan and Eva Perón. She is a devoutly Christian young woman who falls in love at bible college with the charming but slippery Jim, excellently played by Andrew Garfield. Creepy Jimmy has a free-and-easy way with other believers’ money and he ruthlessly gouges his TV flock for donations with which he builds up a Christian entertainment empire and lavish personal lifestyle. He fathers two children with Tammy Faye, but is reluctant to “snuggle” with her, preferring to blow off steam by rough-housing with his male assistant. The film also persuasively suggests that the famous TV preacher Rev Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) deliberately fanned the flames of the media scandal which brought the Bakkers down, so that he could step in and take over their media empire.
This very enjoyable biopic skates over the matter of Jim’s #MeToo scandal: he was accused of rape by a female assistant and church money was used in an attempt to buy her off. Jim denied the allegation; the film doesn’t use the R-word and implies that it was just a matter of infidelity, perhaps to prevent Tammy Faye’s LGBT-ally status from being contaminated. Despite this issue, Chastain’s performance remains outrageously entertaining.