Those who consider themselves religious wouldn’t be entirely wrong if they complained that it’s difficult to find positive portrayals of religion in mainstream movies. High-profile films like The Da Vinci Code, Doubt, Spotlight, and the recent The Eyes of Tammy Faye have each featured stories where those professing to spread the word of God were the ones who were the biggest sinners.
The latest film in that vein is Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., which centers on Paster Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), who are the leaders at Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. Make that, were the leaders, as they’ve lost their entire mega-church congregation of 25,000 people after Lee-Curtis is implicated in a scandal that’s gradually revealed over the course of the film.
Lee-Curtis and Trinitie have hired a documentary crew to try to rehabilitate their image and hopefully witness their rise back to power. What they capture instead is the rampant greed and narcissism of Lee-Child, who never met an expensive item he didn’t covet, and the crisis of faith of Trinitie, who finds it increasingly difficult to stand by her husband given his sins and his unbending expectations of her.
Written and directed by Adamma Ebo, the film is a satire of both mega-church leaders who flaunt their wealth and of a specific sect of Christianity. The film is labeled as a comedy, and while there are occasional funny flourishes, the story is actually very serious for much of its running time. The transgression of which Lee-Child is accused and the obviously strained relationship between him and Trinitie makes for some somber viewing, no matter how goofy or over-the-top the two of them act.
Unfortunately, the mockumentary aspect of the film never gels. The crew making the film is set up as a “fly on the wall” group, meaning we never hear them or see them. This makes for some supremely awkward scenes as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie fumble around, mugging for the camera without any direction. While this might solidify their character traits, it doesn’t make for interesting viewing. It also leads to confusion as Ebo moves back-and-forth between documentary scenes and “real” scenes, with the line between the two becoming very blurry.
Ebo attempts to bring some additional levity to the film with the characters of Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie), two pastors who lead a growing church that has siphoned off many of the Childs’ former congregants. The juxtaposition between the two couples is clear, and making the film more about the two churches’ rivalry might have made for a more successful story than the one Ebo chose.
Whatever the film’s story faults may be, you can’t lay that at the feet of Brown or Hall, as each is highly committed to their role. Hall is a more natural comedic performer and so those parts of the film fit her better, but Brown is completely believable as the pompous and oftentimes clueless Lee-Child. Conphidance and Beharie are not as well-known, but they each deserve bigger roles after scoring with their performances here.
Notable as the first non-horror release from Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. never seems to make much of a point. The main characters barely evolve over the course of the film, leaving the audience waiting for a resolution that never happens.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. opened in theaters and debuts on Peacock on September 2.