Honk For Jesus’ plot is unevenly distributed and its tone a bit imbalanced, but it ultimately lands as a solid sendup of toxic church culture sold by its two charming stars.
Starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown in good form, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. adapts director Adamma Ebo’s 2018 short film of the same name. Trinitie (Hall) and Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) were once the first lady and pastor of the mother of all megachurches before a sexual misconduct scandal sent their thousands of congregants scrambling toward the exits. In a bid to rehabilitate their image, the pair hire a documentary crew to film their comeback, capped by the grand reopening of their church. Honk for Jesus is a romp layered with critiques aimed at some pretty thorny social targets. At times, the quality of the commentary outclasses the quality of the comedy, and the narrative as a whole. But while the film may be an uneven viewing experience, it shines often enough to establish Ebo as a creator to keep an eye on.
With the Childs’ rise and fall sped through at the film’s start, the narrative immediately jumps into the hijinks. Following several comedic scenes wherein the Childs’ unwittingly display their excess and hypocrisy are scenes of the two off-camera, granted the space to be rawer and more vulnerable. It’s in these windows that we get some sprinklings of plot, mainly their cold war with Shakura and Keon Sumpter (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance), an ascending Black husband-wife church duo angling to open their own church and not-so-subtly preying on the Childs’ downfall. The film seesaws like this throughout, stunts then serious sections, the latter of which often feel like they should command more screen time. The bits’ variety show nature and jerky cinematography tracking the chaos produce an absurdity not unlike what would radiate off a co-production from Tyler Perry and Adult Swim. The comedy can be hit or miss, more often found in the delivery of one-liners and reaction shots than the premise of the scene. The dramatic portions do all the work of the character development, which is mostly backloaded into the film’s final leg. And a deflating reality is that a solid number of better jokes already appear in the trailer for the film, one or two even landing better in the promotional edit than the finished product.
But Hall and Brown make the most of this vehicle, particularly Hall, who toggles between grace and nerves, all while never letting Trinitie’s bone-deep unease and fatigue waver. Brown plays Lee-Curtis with a larger-than-life and hardheaded swagger that bandages a deeply bruised sense of self-worth. The characters call to mind other embattled power couples, namely the Clintons, a parallel that isn’t hard to spot: Lee-Curtis is Bill-like with his desperate, devil-may-care buoyance that gets the two into trouble, while Trinitie is a wife meant to both steward and shield her man, her proximity making her privy to the chinks in his armor. The pastor, same as the politician, possesses a capacity for silver-tongued suasion, and both participate within institutions increasingly rotted by capitalism’s predations. And like any other cancellable figure in our culture today, the Curtis’ road to penance is paved with a series of increasingly dedicated self-flagellations.
Meanwhile, the fictional documentary crew’s inclusion denotes the film’s interest in the blurred boundary separating artifice and truth. Trinitie and Lee-Curtis hire them for one purpose, but it’s clear from the camera’s intrusion into some of the couple’s off-scripted moments that they may be pursuing another. The two perform impressions of themselves, impressions informed by the cultural constraints of their race and faith, impressions that ultimately wear more on Trinitie than her husband. The film briefly inserts characters from the community to reinforce that the Childs exist within an ecosystem, one that they ultimately wish to dominate and have corroded their souls in pursuit of. The uneven plotting somewhat obscures Trinitie’s journey to epiphany, yet the climax still lands with a frank power that, if better distributed, could have yielded an even harder-hitting satire. But even if it takes a minute to find its footing, Honk for Jesus is a perfectly solid sendup of church culture showcasing its two stars.
You can currently watch Adamma Ebo’s Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. in theaters or streaming on Peacock.