The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

By: Kevin Jordan

Sweet Jesus.

Up until a month ago, my exposure to televangelism consisted of two experiences. The first, and recurring weekly, was sitting in the church parking lot after Sunday mass trying to get reception on the little TV in our family van while my parents were at some adult after-church socializing thing and my siblings were in Sunday School (my confirmation classes were during the week, in case you were wondering about me being a heathen in a van). Since this was the early 1990s, the over-the-air television reception (Google it, young-uns) limited me to fuzzy professional wrestling and clear televangelists preaching. Considering I had just sat through sixteen hours of a one-hour Catholic mass, there was no way in hell (yep) I was going to subject myself to more church. Suffice it to say, I read a lot of books, none of which featured Jesus or God’s wrath.

The second, and a much fonder memory, was the South Park episode “Starvin’ Marvin in Space.” If you have never seen that episode, or any South Park episode, I highly recommend you start with that one. One of the themes of the episode is Pat Robertson appearing on a show called “The 600 Club” on the Christian Broadcast Channel imploring viewers to donate money to buy spacecraft and weapons to capture an alien ship piloted by the titular character, or, to paraphrase Pat, to spread the love of Jesus. This was very much on my mind during several scenes of The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

More recently, and one of the reasons my interested piqued in this movie, I listened to an episode of a podcast called “You’re Wrong About” covering Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. As I was completely unfamiliar with the couple, the episode was fascinating, eye-opening, and horrifying all at the same time. The episode covers a lot of ground, including the alleged rape of Jessica Hahn by Jim Bakker and his associate John Wesley Fletcher, the most well-known piece of the Bakker story. After listening to it, I was looking forward to seeing how the film would cover the Bakkers and the light it would portray them in. Based on a 2000 documentary of the same name, the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye is told from the perspective of Tammy Faye, so a lot of the sordid story was glossed over in the film or outright ignored, including the alleged rape, which is barely mentioned as “that girl keeps calling.” This was quite disappointing from both a historical and dramatic perspective.

The major problem with this film is it that it stays at the one-hundred-thousand-foot level, except when it comes to Jessica Chastain’s actual portrayal of Tammy Faye, with a close second for Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Jim Bakker. There is no commitment to any real narrative outside of Tammy’s personal quirks. Her eye make-up, her guzzling of Diet Coke, her Minnesota accent, her vanity. Every time the movie seems like it is about to focus on a hardship or obstacle, it blinks its eyes and we’re whisked some time into the future where that previous issue has been forgotten. Their car disappears while they are on the road and have no money? Random guy offers them a job working with Pat Robertson at Robertson’s TV network and we jump ahead three years when all is going great. Robertson takes credit for Jim’s “700 Club” show? The Bakkers decide to start their own TV network and we jump ahead five years when all is going great. For all intents and purposes, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of Tammy Faye’s life from mid-childhood to the collapse of the Bakkers’ lives in 1987. Maybe life really did just hand things to Tammy and Jim on a silver platter, but if so, that’s really boring.

Because the film is mostly reciting basic facts for us, there are no real heroes or villains established for us to root for or against. Normally, we’d gravitate toward the film’s supposed protagonist (Tammy), but the film misses the forest for Tammy’s eyelashes. The most we can muster is a smidge of sympathy because Jim won’t have sex with her any more. Additionally, even a quick search of Jim reveals him to be a slimy con artist using the love of Jesus to wring millions of dollars from gullible believers and, if we are to believe Ms. Hahn (and I very much do), a rapist. Oh, and many of the millions went into the construction of a Christian theme park in South Carolina because nothing says devoted Christian more than water slides and funnel cakes. He even has a henchman. On paper, the guy is one handmaid’s tale away from being a super villain, yet this film portrays him as a meek, pleading, faux Mister Rogers who definitely didn’t rape anybody because did you see the scene implying he might be a teensy bit gay because he wrestles with his henchman on a TV stage for a few seconds? Again, maybe he really was that way in real life, but if so, that’s really boring.

In the end, I didn’t come out of this movie with any more of an impression of the Bakkers than I had going into the film. Most historical fictions and biopics make me want to learn more about the subject matter and fact-check the film, but The Eyes of Tammy Faye just made me want to close my own eyes and take a nap. To be fair, I was interested to know what happened to the theme park, Heritage USA (turns out it was the third most successful theme park in America at the time, after Disneys World and Land, until the scandals broke in 1987 and Hurricane Hugo mostly destroyed it in 1989, forcing it to close for good). And, as a society, we’ve also learned over the past few decades that televangelists in general are mostly just grifters and criminals perverting religion in order to separate people from their money (the list is long). But what I really learned is that I made the correct decision to read books way back in my childhood van and that South Park got it more right than The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Rating: Ask for nine dollars back for the film and anything you gave to that guy in the really nice suit preaching on Sunday morning TV.

99 Homes

By: Kevin Jordan

…to evict people from.  99 Homes on the block.  Evict them now.  Move to the next.  98 Homes to evict people from.

Poster Art

Is it okay that I’m being glib about a movie containing realistic depictions of people being evicted from their homes?  On the one hand, it’s really sad and depressing to watch people go through that.  On the other hand, it’s just a movie.  Well, you know what they say – when life gives you lemons, punch life in the throat for giving you the worst fruit you can think of.  At least, that’s the lesson Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) tries to impart on Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) in 99 Homes.

In all seriousness, eviction is something that I (and nearly every other homeowner) worry about.  Nothing so drastic as keeping me up at night – I’m fortunate enough to have a steady income and a wife with a steady income as well, but there’s an occasional tickle every now and then where I can’t help but think of the worst case scenario.  This movie brings life to that tickle and it doesn’t discriminate between race or social class in showing us who gets evicted.  I wouldn’t call it a horror movie, but it does more to induce nightmares than most typical horror flicks do.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Dennis Nash is a construction worker who lives with his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and mother, Lynn (Laura Dern) and Dennis is struggling to pay the bills and keep up with the house mortgage.  When his current job abruptly ends, he is unable to find more work and finds himself in court, desperate to keep the bank from foreclosing and evicting his family.  Obviously, he fails and finds himself and family ousted from their home by the Orlando police and real estate agent, Rick Carver.  Carver’s business model is representing the banks who own the loans, executing the evictions, and flipping the houses for a profit.  Quickly thereafter, Dennis finds himself working for Rick, whom Dennis essentially wanted dead just a day earlier.  Carver sees someone he can manipulate in Dennis, but also sees in him someone that can increase Carver’s profits.  Dennis gets a crash course in Carver’s operations and soon finds himself as the guy everybody, including himself, hates – the repo man.

While this movie doesn’t steers away from over-dramatizing the eviction run-ins, it does a fantastic job of displaying a few different scenarios.  There are deadbeats, there are defeated families, there are rational people, there are old people verging on Alzheimer’s, there are people who threaten violence, and there are people who sabotage the house prior to leaving (this particular scene is so good you can almost smell what they did – that’s all I’ll say).  But all of them have one thing in common – they all just need a little more time and the desperation is palpable.  After about five minutes of this (and that’s just the beginning), I was more uncomfortable than a scientist in a room full of creationists.  And it wasn’t just because of the situations; it was because Michael Shannon was awesome.

Besides his legitimate business practices, Carver is fully engaged in questionable/illegal activities to keep him ahead in the real estate game.  Among his shady practices, he has figured out ways to scam Fannie Mae out of money in the form of reimbursements (he steals appliances from the homes, gets reimbursed for new appliances, then just reinstalls the stolen ones) and is constantly driving around looking for signs of distressed homeowners so he can expedite their evictions.  Shannon delivers one of the sleaziest characters on screen since Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and a much more frightening character than his General Zod in Man of Steel.

Speaking of bad superhero movies, Garfield also redeems himself after the dismal Amazing Spider-Man movies (despite what some people say, he was not a good Spider-Man).  Unlike in those past films, Garfield is given good writing and asked to actually, you know, act.  Throughout the film, Dennis is visibly disturbed by what he is doing to take care of his family.  It’s a little like the way Walter White started out before he saw nothing but dollar signs, but without all the murder and meth.  Dennis can’t sleep at night, he’s looking over his shoulder, and doing everything he can to not feel emotions for the evictees, all while Carver is molding him into a version of Carver himself.  Garfield does such a good job of emoting that you end up feeling the same emotions as him, right up until the credits role.

The best thing about this movie is that it doesn’t take a hard political line on the topic.  In fact, it does a really good job of balancing between people who sympathize with evictees and don’t think they should lose their homes and people who say “tough shit – that is the consequence of borrowing and not paying back” (comment trolls would call them liberal democrats and conservative republicans, respectively – or something much less respectful).  The scene that really hits this dichotomy home is in one of the lessons Carver is bestowing on Dennis in which Carver simultaneously rants against the homeowners for doing stupid things like financing enclosed patios and borrowing too much money and the banks for doing stupid things like loaning money to those people and other people who can’t possibly pay it back.

While I think this was a very good movie with two fantastic performances from Garfield and Shannon, I will never watch this movie again.  That’s not a backhanded compliment or me being glib again – that’s just how uncomfortable this movie made me.  Like American History X and Requiem for a Dream, it’s on my list of movies that I would recommend everybody sit through only once…because that amount of cringing in one showing is enough for ten.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and try to get a good night’s sleep.