Grade: C+

Anyone looking for a journalistically objective, intensive
investigation of the fallen PTL ministry and its superstar
televangelist duo Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye needn’t stop here;
this gentle documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbain
comes to treat the wide-eyed, easily-weepy distaff side of the
couple with consideration rather than disdain, and certainly
has no intention of burying her in the sort of snide, catty
contempt that she’s regularly received. The approach, which
makes for some poignancy and humor while avoiding a really
critical stance, isn’t just a crude rehabilitation job, but it
does definitely tell the tale of Tammy Faye’s checkered career
from her own–assuredly biased–perspective, and while one
shouldn’t dismiss its largely positive portrayal out of hand,
he shouldn’t take it as gospel, either.

From the point of view of these “Eyes,” Tammy Faye and her
husband weren’t scoundrels at all, but rather clueless, hopeful
people who have been perpetually used and then abused by
supposed friends–among them Pat Robertson, who took “The 700
Club” away from them when it became successful, and most
particularly Jerry Falwell, who seized the PTL Network
ostensibly to save it but then destroyed it, and its leaders
as well. In the reading offered here, the Bakkers weren’t
criminals as much as they were victims of their own success
and naivete.

Many will find this interpretation hard to swallow, but
however much one resists it, the picture should at least make
him a trifle more sympathetic to Tammy Faye, who’s portrayed
as a virulently gregarious, slightly ridiculous and somewhat
pathetic character–but one who, like the Energizer Bunny,
just keeps on running whatever the odds against her. The
producer-directors aren’t afraid to camp up the proceedings
to make their star both a bit absurd yet still lovable (the
use of sock puppets, who periodically introduce segments of
the story in a “Babe”-like formula, is the most notable
example, but the presence of RuPaul as narrator isn’t far
behind). Gay audiences will probably find the protagonist
especially iconic, since she’s not only very florid but
surprisingly tolerant.

Still, it’s often difficult to accept the basic premise that
Tammy Faye is in fact a talented performer (excerpts of her
singing remain pretty excruciating, and her notions for a
television comeback are appalling) or, even more, the idea
that she and her former husband were innocents overwhelmed by
events and misled by conspiratorial colleagues. The closest
that the picture comes to a negative point of view is provided
by a North Carolina reporter who broke the PTL scandals, and
even he is now, it seems, reduced to a sort of fandom in
Tammy Faye’s presence.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is, therefore, a fast-moving, often
lightheartedly amusing and occasionally touching treatment of
its star, but a searing “60 Minutes” segment it’s most
definitely not.