Perkier than Sue Ann Nivens, with a mask of happy-Medusa makeup, the former Tammy Faye Bakker strolls through The Eyes of Tammy Faye like the holy den mother of showbiz Christianity. Does the movie, with its sock-puppet intros and narration by RuPaul Charles, mock Tammy Faye, sanctify her, or turn her into a flamboyant image of distressed womanly martyrdom — the Judy Garland of televangelism? All of the above.

Still, there wouldn’t be much drama to The Eyes of Tammy Faye if it simply focused on the rise and fall of someone who’s easy to laugh at — and, perhaps surprisingly, to like — because she’s got a feel-good hymn for every occasion. The far more fascinating subject is the backstabbing history and slippery, oxymoronic soul of the ”electric church.” As chronicled by codirectors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, the sex-and-fraud scandals that sucked the Bakkers down like a whirlpool weren’t the ultimate violation of big-bucks television preaching; they were the poetic fulfillment of it.

Televangelists all have a light in their eye, but is it the light of profit or the light of faith? The insidiousness of the hustle is that in TV land, they’re the same thing. Jim Bakker, with his chipmunk-cheeked, happy-salesman charm, acquired that light: He became an exhibitionist for you.

Of course, it was also for him (certainly more than it was for Him). Bakker gloried in, yet shrouded, his own ego, and so it took an even more shameless ego to bring him down — the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who steals the PTL right out from under the Bakkers in what has to be one of the juiciest moments of high treachery I have ever seen in a movie. Tammy Faye, the enabler on the sidelines, is crushed, and then, in a rather touching finale, she goes back to singing her hymns. Television is where she always belonged, but the business of saving souls there will never look quite the same. A-

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000 Movie)
  • Movie
  • 79 minutes