There is a moment in the Ebo sisters’ comedy-satire Honk for Jesus. Save your soul.” when charismatic Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs, flanked in the pulpit by ornate thrones for him and her, declares to his congregation, “I am the prophet with the beautiful wife and the beautiful Bugatti.” In the standard format with lesser Rendered in the resolution that evangelical television programming is known for, it is a scene that fully captures the crooked fusion of the materialistic and spiritual within the culture of the Southern Baptist megachurches.
Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife, First Lady Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), are the perfect picture of conjugal devotion and (allegedly) blessed wealth. Her capital lies not only in the tithes given by her 26,000 parishioners or the walls of brightly colored designer clothing that line the many rooms of her church, Atlanta’s Wander to Great Paths, but also in the promise of Black Christian love and success , which causes their mating. That’s why — following the exposure of the secret pastor’s sex scandal — her downfall is so absolutely world-destroying.
In a bid to redeem their tarnished image (and herald the reopening of their church following the mass exodus of previously devoted parishioners), the Childs welcome a documentary crew into their lives.
As Pastor, Lee-Curtis presents himself as the almost irresistibly confident leader of his flock, currently missing or not, while Trinitie works on the defensive, not only supporting her husband in the role of dutiful wife in the public eye, but also managing her image behind the scenes Scenes whose effect lies somewhere between celebrity obsession and religious worship.
After just one day of shooting, the Childs realize they won’t be able to craft and choreograph their narratives the way they’re used to, and that rift widens as Honk for Jesus progresses. Save Your Soul.” The debut film, about identical twins Adamma, the writer-director, and Adanne Ebo, the producer, is confident in its critique of the cult of personality and the prosperity gospel that pervades the Southern evangelical church.
It’s a pointed satire that can only come from those who have experienced it, who understand the intricacies of language and gesture that dominate these spaces (“Bless your soul”). There is a vocabulary of experience at work here, be it the age appropriateness of certain church hats, romping around in the car to Crime Mob, or speaking on call-in radio shows. The film dispenses with didactics and instead offers the proverb: Whoever knows, knows.
This invitingly self-referential way of world-making is heralded by the first pin drop of Three 6 Mafia’s “Poppin’ My Collar”.
The characters created by screenwriter Adamma Ebo are also flawless. Lee-Curtis, with his perfect physique, impressive presence, and suave personality, nonetheless rots from the inside out. He is a narcissist of the highest order, as commanded by God, and the eternal victim of the devil and his naysayers rather than the effects of his own actions. He’s not being tortured because of his barely suppressed desires, but because he just can’t help it. He twists Scripture to permit his conduct while arming it against those who dare oppose him; in Lee-Curtis’ own delusional imagination, he is not only Christlike, he is Christ born again.
He is the perfect counterpart to Trinity, whose sacrifices for the perceived good of her marriage and church reach a climax in the film’s final moments. While Lee-Curtis is detached from the reality of his own actions, however much she may be involved in many of them, Trinitie bears the weight of his humiliations, culminating in an irreversible shattering of the image she worked so hard to to keep it up.
The loose mockumentary format of Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” gives Hall a chance to showcase her established comedic skills during the agile runtime, but the final chapter gives her room to pull off a career-best dramatic performance that’s as effective as a raw nerve.
The film’s commitment to this kind of inwardness gives it a humanity that might otherwise be subsumed by the thicker-skinned critique of the many lost souls we see on screen. There’s an awareness of the Force dynamics at play, but also a willingness to give characters the autonomy to question those who helped shape them.
A first contribution that is as fresh as it is concise: “Honk for Jesus. Save your soul.” presents a keen vision of evangelical life, without losing sight of the feeling that remains when the facade of everything finally falls.
“Hoop for Jesus. Save your soul.’
Rated: R, for speech and some sexual content
Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes
To play: Begins September 2 in general release; also streaming on Peacock
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-09-01/honk-for-jesus-save-your-soul-review-regina-hall ‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul’ review: Sharp edged satire