Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) when they attend the same Bible college in Minnesota. In 1961, they marry and move to South Carolina, where they begin a traveling ministry. They cross the country as a Gospel act: Tammy Faye sings and plays the accordion, while Jim preaches. In 1964, the couple creates a puppet ministry for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Robertson (Gabriel Olds) tells Jim that if the puppet show is a success, he can host a late-night show, The 700 Club.
After the Bakkers leave CBN, they cofound the Trinity Broadcasting Network in California in 1973. Soon the partners have a disagreement, and the Bakkers move to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they begin the PTL Club, a late-night talk show. This grows into the first Christian Satellite Network and reaches 120 million people a year. The Bakkers build their headquarters in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which includes Heritage USA, a Christian-themed amusement park.
Jim is investigated by the FCC and the IRS for fraud and misuse of donated funds. While Tammy Faye has a brief affair with a musician, Jim is accused of paying off Jessica Hahn, who claims she was raped by Bakker and another PTL staffer. Roe Messner (Sam Jaeger), who is deeply involved in the Bakkers’ business affairs, delivers the hush money. Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) assures the Bakkers he will handle the situation. But he breaks his promise, and the PTL ministry is lost.
In addition to telling the story of the Bakkers and the history of televangelism, the film offers a nuanced portrait of Tammy Faye. It looks beyond the makeup, hairstyle, and wardrobe to the heart of a good woman with a simple message: “God loves you just the way you are.” She was the first televangelist to interview a gay man and pastor with AIDS on live television, thus reaching out to the LGBTQ community.
Chastain’s compelling performance is filled with empathy. She believes Tammy Faye’s legacy is needed more today than ever before, as the actress told me in an interview. Garfield inhabits the role of Jim Bakker in all his moral complexity. Jerry Falwell’s well-documented homophobia is conveyed by D’Onofrio in a commanding performance. This award-worthy film is based on a 2000 documentary of the same name.
Not yet rated, PG-13 • Some sexual content and drug use.
Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with her tight-knit deaf family: parents Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant). Ruby is a CODA, which means a “child of deaf adults.” The family owns and operates a fishing boat, but the man who owns the cooperative where the fishermen sell their catch doesn’t pay well. As the Rossi family struggles financially, Ruby auditions for the school choir and begins to dream of studying music in college. Her teacher, Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), says he will help Ruby win a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music because she sings so well.
Ruby’s decision to leave the family who depends on her to mediate the deaf culture and hearing world upsets them. She insists that they must let her go. But when Frank, Leo, and others decide to form their own cooperative, their dependence n Ruby increases. One day when Ruby is not with them, they fail to stop their boat for a Coast Guard inspection because they cannot hear the radio call. They are now mandated to always have a hearing person onboard, leaving Ruby more conflicted than ever.
CODA is a beautiful and loving coming-of-age comedy-drama that lets us inside the deaf culture and the challenges of being a hearing child of deaf parents. Ruby’s audition for Berklee is a moment of pure cinematic grace. Jones, who is excellent as Ruby, studied American Sign Language for nine months to prepare for the role. Matlin, who is still the only deaf person to win an Oscar (Children of a Lesser God), insisted that all deaf characters be played by deaf actors. Writer/director Sian Heder agreed.
A-3, PG-13 • Some sexuality, language, and fighting.
This new documentary tells the story of social justice activist and attorney Ady Barkan. In 2016, at the age of 32, he is diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
As the disease progresses, Ady continues his activism for health care for all. On a flight home from Washington, DC, in 2017, he overhears another activist, Liz Jaff, talking about her use of social media in political campaigns. They quickly hatch an idea when they realize that Senator Jeff Flake is on the same flight. They challenge him to “be a hero” and vote in favor of health care. The video of the encounter goes viral. Ady and Liz decide to work together and fix up an RV to accommodate Ady’s wheelchair and go on a multistate tour to promote their “Be a Hero” campaign. Its purpose is to motivate people to demand health care justice from their elected officials.
Not Going Quietly is inspiring, funny, and filled with good people who blend activism and assisting Ady in day-to-day living. It is also a guide on how to speak truth to power when the dignity of human persons and the common good are at stake. Ady is the first person to address a Senate hearing about health care for all using augmentative (eye-activated computer) communication because he was no longer able to speak.
Not yet rated • Language.