In the US, infused in black culture is the power of religion in daily lives. Naturally, as a result, someone is going to come in to try to profit off of it. Enter the megachurches: bastions of Christ’s love…and good ol’fashioned American lecherous capitalism. Pastors/power couples at these churches make for fascinating characters because of the complicated morally complex nature of their existence. Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is one look into the life of one of those power couples. The trailer makes it seem like Honk for Jesus is going for straight up satire, but the movie is at its best when its more of a character study of a couple balancing worldly desires with spiritual pursuits.
Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) had it all. Supported by his loving wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), Childs was a star Pastor of a giant Southern Baptist Church in the Atlanta community. What goes up must come down though, and a giant scandal shuts down the Childs’s church for months, leaving an opening in the Baptist community that’s filled by rival husband/wife team Pastor Sumpter (Conphidance) and Pastor Sumpter (Nicole Beharie). Desperate to regain their previous position in the religious community, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie hire a documentary crew to come around and film them as the try to “resurrect” their Church for their kickoff service on Easter Sunday.
We have been long overdue for a great satire about a megachurch/televangelist. And we still might be even after Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Writer/director Adamma Ebo has too much affection for the community these churches create to go after them with the fangs necessary for the jokes to land. Here’s an example: there’s a decent scene where we see the Childs’s singing along to a hilariously vile/misogynist hip hop banger in their car. Funny, for sure. However, the scene could have been way funnier if we see the couple code switch: after leaving Wednesday church service they could be playing gospel music and be all performey smiley, then when they get far enough away they turn off the performance, and head bop along to the hip hop. Now that’s funnier! But maybe undercuts the character study Ebo wants to tell (more on that below) What humor is in there mostly goes for broad lazy comedy that’s very hit and miss. The best stuff digs into the inherent contradictions of evangelism, like hilariously phony nice conversations with a bitchy undercurrent or the performative nature of the job.
The best parts of Honk for Jesus are surprisingly not the comedic ones though: it’s the dramatic moments that shine brightest. That affection that undercuts Ebo’s comedy helps elevate the internal/external conflicts of both Lee-Curtis and Trinitie Childs. That code switching has confused and frustrated them both, in different ways. Lee-Curtis’s plight is easiest to see: his romantic desires clearly contradict his church teachings that have made him so popular. There’s a scene on a basketball court that humanely, rivetingly shows the constant internal turmoil Lee-Curtis is under, thanks to Sterling K. Brown’s dramatic chops. As the movie goes along though, you realize Honk for Jesus isn’t about the public facing pastor of the church; it’s about Regina Hall’s First Lady. What could have been a lazy Hillary Clinton parallel is elevated by the cruelly underutilized Hall. Honk for Jesus is a perfect showcase for everything the talented actress is great at. Hall shows us the subtle day to day struggles of Trinitie’s life. Like her husband she’s always performing, putting the church’s success ahead of her own feelings/concerns at all times, burying any contempt, stupidity, or cruelty as long as humanly possible. Obviously there’s worldly power and financial gain for Trinitie that she desires to keep, but unlike lesser films Hall shows us how the First Lady owns all of her choices, and accepts the consequences of them in turn to make the happiest life possible for herself and her family. It’s a complex, comedic, dramatic, physical, and emotional performance that Hall should send to every producer to show why she should headline their next movie.
The one word summary of Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is frustration. There’s bad frustration, as the movie could have been way more comedically potent and funny. And there’s also good frustration, showcasing the frustrations of characters fighting for power under high stress. And then there’s my frustration: how many times does Regina Hall have to keep delivering for everyone to make content creators realize she should headline as many projects as possible. I see you Regina, and hope your heart gets blessed but in a real way, not in the f*ck you way all the characters in this movie say it to one another.