REVIEW: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 102 minutes
    Release Date: September 2nd, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Focus Features / Peacock
    Director(s): Adamma Ebo
    Writer(s): Adamma Ebo

I prayed on it, though.

Lawsuit settlements don’t pay for themselves. If anyone should know this fact, it’s a Baptist pastor of his own super church bordering on Evangelical tithe-vacuum who’s been accused of a few “indiscretions.” Is Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) a criminal? While the answer to that question is debatable, his victims’ lawyers didn’t seem confident they could get a jury to label him as such via a criminal trial. So, they went civil instead, knowing Childs couldn’t refute the allegations. At best he could play a game of semantics to recontextualize them. Either way, what had been a congregation of twenty-five thousand was now a congregation of zero. He and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall) closed the doors to quell the flames. Sadly, empty pews don’t pay lawsuits either.

Christians do love a good resurrection, though. And narcissists will never believe themselves too far gone to be reborn as the second coming of Christ. As for the rest of the world: we simply love mess. So, why wouldn’t there be a camera crew present to document a proposed revival? Maybe Lee-Curtis means it when he says he’s repented and maybe Trinitie truly has forgiven her husband to stick by his side through it all. Or maybe they are so deluded by their local celebrity and mesmerized by the obscene wealth they’ve accrued (admittedly bolstered by real, effective, and generous charitable work within the community) to realize they no longer know when to stop performing for the masses, the media, and themselves. Regardless, the potential trainwreck is delicious.

Writer/director Adamma Ebo (and her producing twin Adanne) expands upon her short from four years ago to deliver the inevitable debacle that ensues known as Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Part straight comedy (2.35:1) and part mockumentary (1.55:1), she takes us into the artifice, fear, indignation, and ego necessary to even consider such an undertaking. Because let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: just because Trinitie has been gaslit by the Lord, her mother, and her husband for her entire life to think that her faith alone in those who constantly let her down is their communal key towards salvation, she isn’t the victim here. She’s a victim, but also an enabler, opportunist, and accomplice. She wants back on top as much as Lee-Curtis.

And that’s why we can enjoy hating them both for almost two-hours. They aren’t destitute. They aren’t even middle class. The Childs had so much liquidity that they were able to keep their massive church closed without having to sell anything. All the Prada suits remain inside. All the designer bonnets too. Same with the cars, the house, everything. There’s a moment when we almost believe money is an issue because Trinitie suggests aloud that Lee-Curtis not buy new clothes for their reopening, but it’s just because she knows he doesn’t need to. Ditto him dropping to a whisper when she returns home with a new three-thousand-dollar hat. We assume he’s about to say they can’t afford it, but he merely thinks it makes her look too old.

Our hate is intentional not only for entertainment value, though. It’s also crucial to revealing the religion’s baked-in misogyny by way of Trinitie. She’s become so brainwashed that we do have to sympathize with her. She’s the brains of this operation and yet Lee-Curtis devalues her input at every turn. He forces her to act on his whims. He sacrifices her dignity for his own. And it’s all because he cannot be this gold-plated prophet without a beautiful, loving wife by his side. He bought her with the same moves used to buy and exploit the victims currently suing him. Maybe she does like this life too much that ignoring his daily transgressions is better than throwing everything away, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t also been hurt.

It’s why we wait for the explosion. At least one of two things must happen: Trinitie comes to her senses and lets Lee-Curtis have it and/or a victim reveals themself to force him to confront what it is he did. And because there really isn’t any other alternative here, the journey can feel bloated by its need to delay that gratification. It’s still very funny (an encounter between Trinitie and a former congregate played by Olivia D. Dawson is perfectly passive aggressive), but we’re spinning wheels to a certain extent because Ebo must dole her information out slowly. We receive allusions (like Lee-Curtis proving he hasn’t learned a thing) and mirrors (a younger couple filling the Childs’ void in Nicole Beharie and Conphidance‘s Pastor and Pastor Sumpter) instead.

Ebo is practically daring her characters to find their self-respect and humility only to let them degrade themselves even further—Trinitie by allowing herself to stoop as low as her husband demands and Lee-Curtis by having his cracked façade shattered only for him to attempt and fail to hastily put it back together as if the whole world didn’t watch it fall. This is Hall and Brown’s show as a result. Even when the unwieldy script feels like a short expanded beyond its means, they come on-screen to chastise you for thinking their masterclass could lose even one second. The humor can get too big at times, but it only augments how biting it proves during the dramatic moments. Their Icarus still believes the sun is in reach.

[1] Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown star as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs in HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL., a Focus Features release. Credit: Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC
[2] Conphidance and Nicole Beharie star as Keon and Shakura Sumpter in HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL., a Focus Features release. Credit: Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC
[3] Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown star as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs in HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL., a Focus Features release. Credit: Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC

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