Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul, 2022.
Written and Directed by Adamma Ebo.
Starring Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Austin Crute, Nicole Beharie, Devere Rogers, Conphidance, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Andrea Laing, Avis-Marie Barnes, Selah Kimbro Jones, Elle Young, Dhane Ross, Jerome Beazer, Perris Drew, Greta Glenn, and Robert Yatta.
In the aftermath of a huge scandal, Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist Mega Church, attempts to help her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, rebuild their congregation.
It checks out that Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. (an attention-grabbing title, no doubt, but unwieldy for writing purposes and will be abridged from here on out) is pulled from the personal Georgian upbringing of twin sister filmmakers Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo (the letter serves as a producer alongside the alluring likes of Jordan Peele, Daniel Kaluuya, and the film’s stars, Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown). What starts as faux documentary satire slowly but surely transitions into a narrative with dramatic heft, anchored by a pair of sublime turns talented enough to rise above inconsistent tones and unsure writing.
Lee-Curtis Childs and Trinitie Childs (Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall) are a grifter powerhouse couple running a Southern Baptist church. That somewhat changes once Lee-Curtis is exposed for serial sexual misconduct, subsequently bleeding congregants. Some believe Lee-Curtis is innocent, whether from the perspective of someone claiming the victims are seductive devils trying to bring the church down or theorizing that he is the latest successful Black entrepreneur that got too famous with society placing a target on his back.
One doesn’t need to understand Southern Baptist culture to find the humor here (although it presumably expands some jokes) because the misconduct is commonplace among religions. It also goes beyond belief; how often do we see a celebrity get accused of sexual wrongdoings only for a vocal minority to emerge from the woodworks crying foul play while harassing and blaming women? The point is that Honk for Jesus certainly has universal appeal and poignancy regardless of the characters’ environment.
For what is a low-budget title (writer and director Adamma Ebo has stretched her short film into a feature-length narrative), Honk for Jesus also makes the most of its production design, portraying the excessive lifestyle these characters lead (there are thrones and all kinds of lavish materialism to give off vibes that we are watching The Wolves of Mega Churches). Impressive tracking shots steadily creep in on conflicting characters and their highly emotive facial expressions, aesthetic lighting juxtapositions are pleasant, and a distinct vision saturates throughout the film’s look and feel.
No one can take away that Adammo Ebo has crafted and overseen a technically sound piece of filmmaking bolstered by actors that are game to be taken wherever the script leads them. But much of Honk for Jesus simply isn’t funny. If anything, it’s too fixated on low-hanging fruit. In Lee-Curtis’ sermons, he’s a massive homophobe. I’m sure you can guess who some of his sexual targets were. There’s also nothing wrong with taking the easy shot, but Honk for Jesus doesn’t say anything particularly new or insightful on any of these relevant topics.
Suddenly, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. takes a sharp turn into a serious exploration of the dynamic between Lee-Curtis and Trinitie. The former is unquestionably narcissistic, whereas Trinitie is undergoing a crisis in faith in support of her egomaniac husband. How much longer is she willing to be made a fool? Will she wake up and abandon this unjust chaos? Admittedly, this leads to a phenomenal monologue from Regina Hall, but the scene arrives far too late. The laughs have dried up (not that there are many, to begin with); it’s mystifying what we are supposed to be rooting for here (the performances are fine but lack the tornado energy to make viewers hope the sex past can reopen his church and rebound). The thematic bite is more like a lick. Someone needed to honk for better structure and more focus.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com