By Chris dos Santos
6th November 2021

Gay icons are hard to describe. There aren't really rules on how to become one - but if there is one definitive list, I think we have to look no further than 'RuPaul's Drag Race' and the icons portrayed in its most famous challenge, Snatch Game. It sees the Queens impersonating famous celebrities, and in 'All Stars' Season 2, Ginger Minj impersonated Miss Tammy Faye - which made me realise that Faye truly is one of the ultimate gay icons.

In 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye', Tammy (Jessica Chastain, 'Molly's Game', 'It Chapter 2') experiences a religious upbringing in Minnesota. While studying to preach the good word of the Lord, she meets and falls in love with Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, 'Hacksaw Ridge', 'Silence'). The two notice how dry television programs targeted to Christians are, and after some time form 'The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club', a talkshow-style program featuring music, cooking and the Lord that asks viewers to send in donations to funds things like buildings for the needy; at its peak, it netted US$120 million annually. Faye treads a lot of untrodden ground for Christians, talking about taboo subjects like penis pumps and, most notably for the LGBTQIA+ community, interviewing people suffering from HIV/AIDS. But Faye is ultimately swindled by Bakker when he used PTL money to cover up his affair - which leads to even more fraud revelations and the end of PTL.


One of the challenges here is: how do you portray Tammy Faye? She's larger than life, and in the wrong hands, she could have been either the punching bag or a joke. However, director Michael Showalter ('The Big Sick') and screenwriter Abe Sylvia really understand who she was - an eccentric, loving woman who loved the Lord, everyone on earth, Diet Coke and makeup. Jessica Chastain is fantastic and fabulous as Faye; she draws you in and you perfectly understand the way she sees the world - and sadly, how people would use that to gain millions of dollars behind her back. Andrew Garfield is also phenomenal here, and again you can see him starting out with compassion but as soon as the money begins to roll in, Bakker just loses it all. The performances across the board just make me want to sing Hallelujah!

There's something about Tammy Faye that's so endearing. The scandal makes you want to research her, but as you learn about her personality and her passion, you really connect with her and her drive to be her authentic self. That's why she's a queer icon - through everything, she stayed herself and loved everyone she came into contact with, regardless of their sexuality.

One of the challenges here is: how do you portray Tammy Faye? She's larger than life, and in the wrong hands, she could have been either the punching bag or a joke. However, director Michael Showalter and screenwriter Abe Sylvia really understand is who she was.

One thing I wasn't expecting was her songs to absolutely slap. 'Jesus Keeps Takin' Me Higher & Higher' and 'We are Blest' should be played at every gay club as they are truly energetic. The film's final scene is her performing 'Battle Hymn of the Republic', and it cuts back and forth between her version of the performance and what's really happening, and it really illustrates what makes her captivating. She thinks she has a full choir behind her but in reality, it's just her and the audience is "feeling her fantasy" with her.

How innocent is Tammy Faye? We will never really know how much she did or didn't know, but you can't deny the love she had for people. Watch her interview with HIV positive Steve Peters in 1982; you cannot fake that emotion. No matter your faith or beliefs, Tammy's message was ahead of its time - she loves everyone, no matter what.

Trixie Mattel, wisely, once said, "Bangs are the curtains of the head which is the eyes to the windows to the soul," and that's what 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' does. We get to see her soul, her vision, her story. The film perfectly balances the campness and the drama, and I'm starting Chastain's Oscar campaign now! We are truly blest!

Also, check out the documentary also titled 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' streaming on the drag service WOW Presents+ just to see how accurately they recreated so many things.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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