regina-hall-and-sterling-k-brown-in-honk-for-jesus-save-your-soul

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. (2022) Movie Review

Adamma Ebo’s Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. places its viewer at the intersection of capital and religion. For pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), this intersection has broken traffic lights. From the beginning, there is a fissure between the two forces, and a clear favoritism in this mega-church community toward capital. And at this broken traffic stop, problems are bound to occur.

Rather, a collision has already occurred at the point in which we meet the church owners. A scandal has rocked the church, which has caused Lee-Curtis to disappear from the public eye. But he sees Easter Sunday as the perfect time for his big comeback. With the church reopening set for that Sunday, Lee-Curtis commissions a documentary film crew to chart his return to prominence; his resurrection, if you will.

regina-hall-in-honk-for-jesus-save-your-soul

You could think about Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. in one sense as a tone piece. What is an occasionally humorous satire of commodified religion also carries a darker undercurrent examining the inextricable forces of control and capital. By borrowing a popular sitcom format of the faux documentary — characters within the film even comment on the “fly on the wall” anonymity of the filmmakers — the film presents as akin to The Office (or, for a more recent example, the delightful Abbott Elementary).

Pointedly, though, the film will occasionally break jarringly from this format, which serves to both remove the facade from these very performative characters and to create a certain level of distance from the happy-go-lucky nature of the generic form. At the end of the day, the film is funny, but it is really only a comedy to the extent that it, armed with sound personality and wit, satirizes a nasty industry. The film could just as easily be read as the final two acts of a tragedy, where the characters’ hubris has precipitated a fall from grace. Underneath the surface of the comedy is a sadder story, and Ebo is particular with how and when to present this contrasting tone.

In another sense, you could watch Honk For Jesus as a performance piece. The film is a showcase for its leads to stretch their acting muscles. And Hall and Brown step up to this mission.

Hall, in particular, is given a fascinating character to run with. It becomes clear very quickly that Trinitie is much more than a spouse stuck in a bad relationship (although this is an integral part of it). Trinitie is at once complicit in and victimized by her situation, and, as we find out, she believes whole-heartedly that she is as much responsible for the success of the church as Lee-Curtis is; probably more. The church is her home and her child, even as she sees the damage that it has done to others and herself. Hall plays this dissonance with one part self-deception, one part front-facing saintliness, and one part bubbling frustration. As a Hall fan, I would say this is one of the better roles in her career.

Brown, meanwhile, is given a character who could easily be a one-dimensional villain. His is the type that is all smiles and charm, but this is so clearly a veneer for a narcissistic drive for power that the smile can only come across as sinister. All the same, Brown embraces an inner turmoil within Lee-Curtis that mostly goes unsaid. We get a sense that Lee-Curtis believes himself when he says that he has been sent to this town and this church to save people’s souls, even as his actions overtly go against this mission and abuse his power.

The performances of Hall and Brown — alongside a few noteworthy supporting turns from Austin Crute, Nicole Beharie, and Confidance — carry this material. It is not middling material, to be clear. But there are some shortcomings to the presentation that get painted over by the strong acting. Pacing in the back half is hampered by multiple scenes of Trinitie and Lee-Curtis standing on the side of the road desperately trying to get the word out about the church reopening. They are scenes which are punctuated emphatically, but which take a while to get to the heart of the matter. Similarly, there are perhaps one too many scenes early on which establish the Childs’ hedonistic wealth, scenes which ultimately delay the plot from reaching its emotional high points.

On the whole, though, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is an emotionally knotty tragicomedy with performers who shine. Come for the satire; stay for the performances.

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.: B


As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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