Last September, The Eyes of Tammy Faye took the straight-laced biopic approach to telling the story of a pastor’s wife standing alongside her husband amidst a turbulent time of scandal and mistrust. Its spiritual companion, so to speak, now arrives a year later in Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul., which works off of a similar premise but takes a markedly different approach to the story. Half of the film plays like a mockumentary version of The Righteous Gemstones, while the other half resembles Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, if its target was organized religion instead of the entertainment industry. While it has some strong laughs early on and a pair of terrific lead performances, the film is stylistically incongruous and narratively superfluous.
The movie centers around fictional Atlanta megachurch Wander To Greater Paths Baptist, led by perfervid pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and congenial “first lady” Trinitie (Regina Hall). Together, the pair have cultivated a congregation of 25,000+ members but their status in the community is at risk when accusations come out against Lee-Curtis that force the Childs’ to temporarily close the church’s doors. In the interim, the nearby Heaven’s House, led by Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie, respectively), has seen a steady uptick in congregants that the Sumpters would like to retain even after Greater Paths reopens. With their backs against the wall, the Childs’ plan a comeback of biblical proportions that will restore their reputation and return their sheep to the fold.
Opening with Trinitie fumbling over a rat-based parable to an unseen camera crew, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. gets off on the right foot early with a faux-documentary style to which fans of The Office or Modern Family will feel acclimated right away. The more image-conscious the subjects are in this genre, the more fun their characters are to observe and the Childs’ fit this billing to a T. Whether they’re flaunting “divine additions” courtesy of Prada or making sure that the indoor fountain in frame behind them is spitting all sorts of unnecessary water, there’s plenty of comedy to be had with their conceited diversions. We’re also treated to domestic moments of Trinitie and Lee-Curtis trading verses on “Knuck If You Buck” and arguing about the en vogue pronunciation of “amen” that give these characters depth and personality.
But around the halfway point, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. turns from a lighter comedy about commodified Christianity to a more serious and pointed satire about hypocrisy at the highest levels of power. It’s certainly a worthy subject but compared to the tone of what came before it, the more biting commentary feels deflating and out of place. Ostentatious preachers and histrionic churchgoers are low-hanging fruit but it’s when the film tries to climb up the tree that it not only loses its sense of humor but also its sense of purpose. The Childs’ start as caricatures and become more sharply defined as the story progresses but I lost what writer/director Adamma Ebo is ultimately trying to say about them as people.
Fortunately, we never want to take our eyes off of Lee-Curtis and Trinitie, due to the sheer magnetism of the performances by Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall. The pair has an outstanding chemistry with one another and plays off each other beautifully, interplaying guile and grace all while trying to look good for the ever-present cameras. Conphidance and Nicole Beharie are quite good also but the movie seems to lose track of the Sumpters as it narrows in on the nature of Lee-Curtis’ indiscretions. If this had been a matter of the Childs’ vs. the Sumpters in a holy royal rumble for church members, it could have been played more broadly but I wouldn’t have complained as long as the jokes still landed. As is, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a mixed bag of blessings and woes whose script could have benefited from some divine intervention.
Score – 2.5/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Barbarian, a horror film starring Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård about a woman who arrives at an Airbnb to find that it’s apparently been double-booked as a man is also staying there the same time as her.
Premiering on Disney+ is Pinocchio, a live-action remake starring Tom Hanks and Joseph Gordon-Levitt about an Italian woodcarver whose puppet is brought to life after he wishes upon a star one evening.
Streaming on Netflix is End of the Road, a thriller starring Queen Latifah and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges about a cross-country road trip through the New Mexico desert that becomes treacherous for a woman and her family when they become the targets of a mysterious killer.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup