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4 Things to Know about The Eyes of Tammy Faye

4 Things to Know about <em>The Eyes of Tammy Faye</em>

Tammy Faye is a bubbly, free-spirited college student with a heart for Jesus and a goal of singing in every church in America.

In order to do that in 1960s America, though, she’ll need a husband/ministry partner – and preferably, one with a captivating personality perfect for radio and television.

She finds that man in a classmate, Jim, who is just as driven and outspoken as her and who wants to carry a new message across the country: God does not want His people to be poor.

The two wed, yet they find their lavish lifestyle difficult to support.

But then Jim and Tammy Faye are offered a slot on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). And then they launch their own variety show. And then they begin raising millions of dollars – some of it supporting their ministry but some of it also bankrolling their lavish lifestyle.

And then the FBI comes calling.

Will Jim and Tammy Faye’s marriage – much less their ministry – survive?

The new biopic film The Eyes of Tammy Faye (PG-13) tells the real-life story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker – from their college romance to their rise in prominence in the 1970s and 1980s to their legal downfall.

It stars Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Zero Dark Thirty) as Tammy Faye Bakker and Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider-Man series, Hacksaw Ridge) as Jim Bakker.

Here are four things you should know:

Photo courtesy: Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker and their family

1. It's a Romantic Tragedy

The movie tells the story of Jim and Tammy Faye from her perspective, opening with her childhood and closing with her on the steps of a courthouse, smiling.

It sympathizes with her, too. Jim is the “driver” of the bus chasing money and fame, with Tammy Faye along for the ride. (Although Tammy Faye, too, loses sight of what’s most important in the ministry.) Jim is the first one who first considers an adulterous relationship. (Although they both eventually fall.) Of course, Jim – not Tammy Faye – is the one who is sentenced to prison for mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. (He was released in 1994.)

They were one of the most talented couples in the history of the modern church, yet fell when money and fame became their primary objective. (Their theology, too, played a role – see below.)

What could they have accomplished for the Kingdom had they kept their eyes on Christ?

It’s based on a documentary of the same name.

Photo courtesy: Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Tammy Faye in bed

2. It's Troubling … but Excellent

Eyes of Tammy Faye is a fascinating biopic for those who grew up watching Jim and Tammy Faye in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as for those who are just now learning of this power couple. It’s entertaining, educational and … sad.

We see them meet at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis in 1960. We see them challenge the school’s norms. (Jim confronts his professor’s skepticism about the dangers of wealth, while Tammy Faye tells the prof she’s going to sing in churches while wearing makeup – a no-no at that college.) We also see their relationship get off to a rather scandalous start. (They make out on a college bed. Clothes stay on, but their hands don’t stay to themselves.)

Burning with passion, they get married and launch a traveling preaching-and-puppet show ministry.

“We’re soldiers of Christ,” Jim says.

A turning point in their ministry comes when Pat Robertson invites them on CBN and – behind the scenes – Jim pitches a unique idea: a Johnny Carson-type show for Christians. His idea becomes the 700 Club and then the PTL Club (PTL is an acronym for Praise the Lord).

At times, Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain seem like carbon copies of Jim and Tammy Faye, having mastered the wide smiles, chipper demeanor and captivating stage presence. Both deliver award-worthy performances.

Photo courtesy: Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye

3. It's a Warning to Today’s Church

Jim should have listened to Tammy Faye’s mother.

“Serving God don’t feel like it should be a money-making opportunity,” the mom says in the film, appalled by their opulence.

But with fur coats, mansions and nice cars all around, the Bakkers don’t want to change their beliefs. Besides, it forms the core of their worldview.

“God does not want us to be poor,” Jim says in the opening minutes.

Their lust for wealth collided with Scripture’s multiple warnings against the love of money. More significantly, though, it resulted in millions hearing a false gospel that centered on materialism. “Were we preaching that God doesn’t love you if you’re poor?” a repentant Jim asks in the film while sitting in prison.

Eyes of Tammy Faye is a cautionary tale of what can happen in our churches when wealth, and not the gospel of grace, becomes the centerpiece. It’s a warning of what can happen when we place our own words and beliefs above the Words of Scripture. Finally, it’s also a warning about the allure of fame. Frustrated with his wife’s lack of support for him, Jim points to a handwritten letter from President Ronald Reagan and shouts in anger, “I’m an important man, Tammy.”

Photo courtesy: Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Tammy Faye recording a show

4. It's not a Family Movie

Don’t confuse The Eyes of Tammy Faye for a church movie. It’s not.

The film has multiple sexual situations, even though it contains no nudity. (An unmarried Jim and Tammy Faye engage in heavy petting. Tammy Faye bathes Jim and washes him all over. Jim and a man roll on the ground in a semi-embrace, implying a gay relationship, although they don’t kiss. A pregnant Tammy Faye straddles a music producer seconds before her water breaks.) Language is minimal (see below).

The movie also spotlights Tammy Faye’s support for LGBT causes – a real-life fact that caused friction between her and others in the evangelical community. (We see her interview a gay AIDS patient on the PTL Club.)

Despite a few cautions, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is one of the best films of the year – with plenty of lessons for today’s Christians.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse. (Language: s--t 1, d--n 1.)

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Photo courtesy: Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.