Directed by: Adanne and Adamma Ebo
Distributed by: Focus Features
Written by Patrick Hao
“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” is a satire but it is not a comedy. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. But, for an hour and forty-minute movie about a subject that feels like it has been satirized to the nth degree, the film offers an interesting question of who exactly this is for. Let’s first speak to the form that the twin sister duo of Adanne and Adamma Ebo use for their feature debut, based on their short film. By using the mockumentary format to tell the story of Pastor Lee-Curtis Child (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), a Baptist couple trying to restart their mega church that was brought down by a sex scandal involving Lee-Curtis, the Ebo Sisters make us attuned to what is hidden in the public-facing presentation of their characters and what is revealed in little moments and ticks.
Luckily for the Ebo Sisters, Brown and Hall give amazing performances playing the varying degrees of layers these characters are infused with. It is hard to fully know if Lee-Child buys into what he is selling. He is definitely a huckster who is self-aware of what he is presenting, toeing the line of flaunting his aspirational wealth, animal skin shoes, and mansion against the humility expected of a pastor in his position. Brown plays this through impressive contradictions of actions. He is emotive through his eyes but repressive in action. And when he needs to turn on the charm, he does so in the way that Sterling K. Brown can.
On the other side of the two-hander is Regina Hall’s Trinitie. She is playing the common wife trope of a woman who sticks by her public-facing philandering husband’s side. Hall is more explicitly playing a woman who is hiding what she really thinks. The difference between her and Lee-Child is that the audience can fully imagine what Trinitie is thinking at any given moment. The tension is if she will ever break knowing full well all of her husband’s stumbles and transgressions.
While this is all interesting and satirizing true-to-life people, there is a lot of empathy and seriousness afforded to these characters which undercuts some of the comedy. This leads to the question of what point this whole project is trying to make. Without the full-on comedic elements, it is hard to decide what the ultimate punchline of this satire is. Even in focusing on what people would reveal on camera, by making it a drama, that observation seems hollow when these are fictional characters played by great actors. Knowing something is real in a character-piece documentary like “Queen of Versailles” is far more powerful than if that same scenario was played out as fiction.
The Ebo Sisters certainly have an eye and a vision, making some choices as audacious as Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” which no doubt must have been some sort of influence. For a frequent target like mega-churches, a new perspective is welcomed. But, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” has a major tone problem, one that seems too serious for its own good. Interestingly, it is that self-sabotaging nature that makes the film’s fatal flaw the same as the characters it depicts.
“Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul.” Trailer