Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. skewers the hypocrisy & excess of modern-day evangelicals while serving as an acting showcase for Regina Hall & Sterling K. Brown.
Why is it that Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown are two of our finest actors working today – who have additionally been amply awarded (with the former an NYFCC winner and the latter an Emmy winner) – and yet, they still feel so underappreciated by the industry at large? Watching the hysterically hilarious Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. makes this lack of respect even more baffling, as the two tear tackle a tornado of tones in their propulsive performances and leave it all on the screen, acting with a blustery bombast that some thespians can’t ever conjure up over the course of an entire career. Even when the film as a whole – a cutting commentary on misguided megachurches and religious hypocrisy – tries to do a bit too much and spreads itself too thin at points, Hall and Brown continually steady the ship, bringing attention back to their gloriously gonzo acting above all else. For this powerhouse pairing alone (one of the sharpest you’ll find at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival), Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is worth a watch, and the scathing satire is more successful than not as well, exuberantly skewering the excess of modern-day evangelicals.
At one point, Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown, of This Is Us and Black Panther) and Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, of Scary Movie and Girls Trip) were the king and queen of the Christian community in Atlanta, with their following spreading across the state. In a setting chockful of Southern Baptist megachurches, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie had the biggest, with their sumptuous showmanship charming crowds near and far. However, when it’s revealed that Lee-Curtis has been showering younger men with extravagant gifts (snazzy trips, sports cars, etc.) and supposedly engaging in sexual misconduct with these barely legal attendees of their services, this scandal rocks the Childs to their core and practically ruins their reputation with their parishioners. Now, in an attempt to rebuild their congregation and fix their image in the public eye, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie take part in the making of a documentary chronicling their recovery from this controversy and additionally prepare for a substantial “comeback” service to charm their way back into citizens’ hearts – if they can keep their own martial issues in check in the process as well.
The best thing about writer-director Adamma Ebo’s script is how much it leans into the absurdity of the lavish lifestyles who those who run these megachurches, chronicling how far they’ll go to keep their power, if they don’t particularly practice what they preach. At a certain point, are their positions really about “spreading the word of God to lost souls”? Or do those who hold these titles just want to save their skin and retain their riches? The “mockumentary” style Ebo adopts to examine the extravagance of the Curtis’ environment is suitably slide-splitting (the zooms on riotous reaction shots are a definite delight), and even if these hypocritical types are large targets that are near-impossible to miss with satire, that doesn’t keep Ebo’s observations from being any less amusing. The way she perceptively probes men like Lee-Curtis is equally effective, even if we’ve seen this exploration of “closeted men masking their insecurities with big-talking bravado” before, but that’s also due to Brown’s big, brave, and “go-for-broke” performance, properly portraying both the pompousness of his religious pretention while also highlighting his clearly apparent inner anguish without ever excusing his actions.
However, for as good as Brown is, it’s the reliably ravishing Regina Hall who’s the real star of the show, with Ebo devoting significant sections of the film’s runtime to picking apart Trinitie’s psyche – as she is under a surplus of stress from the caustic public critiques, who often lump her with her husband despite her lack of knowledge of his misdeeds – and making her the center of a story that she’s formerly been a “supporting character” in; no longer does Lee-Curtis run the tables, as Trinitie is here to have her say, and she’s going to give him and the whole world a piece of her mind, refusing to let others speak for her. It’s a masterfully multifaceted role, aided by Hall’s complete immersion into the character, which culminates in a monstrously delivered meltdown in the third act in which her fury finally boils to the surface and no one is spared from her wrath – not Lee-Curtis, not the congregation, and certainly not the documentarians carefully crafting their own version of this conflict. Trinitie may have been a participant in the megachurch’s manipulation, but there’s more to her hurt and her history than meets the eye, and Hall compellingly conveys that consternation.
Even at under-100 minutes, there are scenes where it seems like Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is spinning its wheels before its raucous resolution – and one subplot involving a competing church (headed by Miss Juneteenth’s Nicole Beharie and her character’s husband) that feels forgotten about later on – but Brown and Hall’s dutiful dedication to the material earns our engagement time and time again, as does Ebo’s continually stinging social commentary. It may not tell us anything new about megachurches or the specious saintliness of the modern religious elite, but her scrutiny is spot-on regardless and consistently comical. And, more than anything else, who would turn down an acting showcase centered around two of today’s most talented thespians?