More than likely, Jessica Chastain will get an Oscar nomination for her role as the late Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Tammy Faye Bakker). She’s got a Golden Globe nomination and several other wins and nominations in other contests. Her role as the disgraced wife guilty by association to Jim Bakker, a convict and charlatan, is a tour de force of niceness and glamour.
Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing about the 2021 biopic directed by actor-comic Michael Showalter, who also helmed the 2017 comedy The Big Sick. Showalter doesn’t really delve hard into the Bakker’s world as it follows a by-the-numbers plot of real-life drama that played out better during the 1970s and 1980s on the news.
In most of her life, Tammy was guilty by association from a young age as she was shunned by the church community in International Falls, Minn., as her mother, Rachel LaValley (Cherry Jones) was divorced. Even though she remarried, Rachel didn’t initially allow her children in the church where she played organ. You’d think Tammy would’ve seen it as a child there was a lot of discrimination and hypocrisy. But with Rachel so devout, she saw a different world.
She meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at the North Central Bible College in Minneapolis and believes with him that Christians shouldn’t live near poverty levels and indulge their interests. So, they date, are married and kicked out in no time. Then, they hit the roads preaching on a circuit as Tammy makes puppets to amuse young children at tent revivals.
And just when they think they’ve hit rock bottom after their car is repossessed, they just so happen to meet someone who works with Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and yadda-yadda-yadda, they’re working with Robertson on TV. Of course, Robertson claims The 700 Club as his own, but not wanting to play second fiddle to Robertson nor Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio), they form The PTL Club and live lavishly in North Carolina.
The movie hints at Jim’s sexuality as Tammy spies on him mocking her with some co-workers before getting a little too playful with a male co-worker. Then, she has her own tryst with Gary Paxton but it’s cut short as she gives birth. Her water breaks as she’s going to have sex with him. Did this happen in real life? I don’t know.
Jim says he had the “affair” with Jessica Hahn to get back at Tammy. In real life, Hahn alleged that she was raped by Jim and Richard Fletcher (Louis Cancelmi), but this movie skims over that fast. Going into the movie, you pretty much know all that happened. The performance by Chastain is what keeps the movie going. D’Onofrio does a nice job as Falwell but he doesn’t go for the jugular. Falwell was a slimeball who would screw over whoever he had to to get ahead. There’s hints of that here, but maybe it’s because the filmmakers were worried about legal consequences.
Garfield as Jim is the biggest disappointment. He portrays Jim as weakling who got greedy. He’s wrongly cast. Falwell has been dead for almost 15 years but Jim is still alive and as bat-shit crazy as ever. The image of his crying as he is escorted out by law enforcement is re-created here. Jim was putting a show. The movie does show how Jim was good at being a showman. But he was crying because he got caught.
The plot never does touch on if Tammy knew all of what Jim was doing or not. The 1990 movie Fall From Grace with Kevin Spacey and Bernadette Petters as the Bakkers hinted that Tammy was complicit but got a slap on the wrist. Since the focus is on Tammy, it shows her in a more sensitive light. She didn’t think politics should get into religion and thought God’s love was for everyone, including the LGBTQIA community, much to the chagrin of Jim, Falwell and others.
With her make-up and outrageous prints clothing, there were times Tammy looked more like a drag queen to be honest. But in the 1980s as conservatives Christians were doing nothing for the HIV/AIDS epidemic as it was originally called “the gay cancer,” Tammy showed them compassionate because she knew what it was like to be shunned by people who said they were doing the Lord’s work.
One thing I will credit Showalter for doing is not showing Tammy in her later years as she was dying of colon cancer. Shortly before she died in July 2007, she appeared on Larry King Live weighing only about 65 pounds. Not all biopics have to portray the person’s death. This movie ends on a high note as Tammy Faye performs at Oral Roberts University.
Is it a good movie? Not really. It goes through the motions so much Showalter doesn’t add much more than what’s been reported in countless news magazine. What he does do is pull a good performance out of Chastain. Sometimes not-so-good movies have great performances. This is one of those.
What do you think? Please comment.